Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I Conquered - The Norman Conquests - Play Review

The Norman Conquests Trilogy - Circle in the Square Theatre - Broadway, New York, NY - **** (out of 5)
Table Manners - ***1/2
Living Together - ***
Round and Round the Garden - ****
Written by Alan Ayckbourn, Directed by Matthew Warchus

A couple weekends back, I decided to bite the bullet and devote an entire Saturday to the revival of Brit Alan Ayckbourn's play trilogy where it currently performs on Broadway in rotation, with all three plays presented in marathon format every Saturday (and sometimes Sundays). Now the producers say you can see each play individually without needing to see all three, or to see them in any order, I decided to get tickets to the whole shebang on the marathon day anyways, hoping that I wouldn't hate the first play and be stuck there all day.

The trilogy is about the antics of 6 folks, all somehow related to each other by marriage, relationship or birth, and the entanglements that happen when some folks go astray. Each of the three plays looks at the same weekend in the country from a different place in the house. The dining room in Table Manners, the living room in Living Together, and the Garden ... you get the point. So as characters leave one space for another, that will continue in the next play. And so on.

So while the plays are funny on their own, things really start to piece together when you see the next one, and the next one after that. And watching the show in a marathon along with much of the rest of the audience, there tends to be a communal discovery as a punchline gets delivered hours later in a subsequent play, and when the whole story starts making more sense as we discover how all the relationship truly intertwine.

So while I thought the the first play in the marathon Table Manners was amusing and cute, and Living Together was clever in explaining and filling in the gaps from the first play of the marathon day, by the last play of the day, whether it was because it was individually more funny, or because it was the culmination of everything the other 2 plays had built up, Round and Round the Garden seemed the most satisfying of them all. Where all the jokes paid off, where by the end of the day the characters had become fully rounded people (and not just because the show is in-the-round), and where the audience and the terrific energetic cast had a unified sense of completion. A sense of survival that is so satisfying, that there was the most rousing final applause at the end of a terrific day of theatre.

While the plays are cleverly and carefully constructed, they aren't the most brilliant plays just because of the clever splitting of the scenes into three separate spaces. Sometimes the sweat shows and the comedy is very British (if you enjoy British sitcoms, this is perfect for you, but if you scratch yourself wondering why the dry wit is funny, you should probably skip it) but Matthew Warchus and the original British cast polish off the edges of the play and makes the 7 hours feel like an uproarious weekend that goes by too fast.

Stephen Mangan (above) plays our titled Norman, whose antics seem to have cause the motions for this bewildering and accidental weekend. Without giving too much of the plot away, especially since you would discover it differently depending on which play you would see first, Mangan's Norman is one of those guys you always want to smack and yell "get it together man", yet Mangan's Norman is still lovable despite all his Lothario's ways.

Jessica Hynes and Ben Miles are dating couple Annie and Tom. Poor Tom however really has no clue, and the always wonderful Ben Miles (from one of my faves Coupling) only has to move a muscle or shift his face, or make an "Ooooh" sound and he makes it funny. Hynes is all unsure and wriggly as Annie and is simply fabulous as the unfabulously confused woman.

Amanda Root is Annie's sister, and is every bit as sure as Annie is not, and she plows her way through the weekend in the country in her uptight and controlled manner. Root turns what should have easily been an annoying and grating Sarah and turns her into a woman you just want to hug and calm down.

Paul Ritter is Reg, Sarah's long-suffering husband and his reactions as he attempts to stay as genial as possible is priceless.

Amelia Bullmore rounds out the cast as Ruth, Norman's wife and to tell her tale is to spoil half the fun, but Bullmore manages to play an easy cliche with heart and passion without missing a comedic beat.

It's truly difficult to single out a cast member who is better or worse than the rest, as the entire ensemble works like some perfect machinery that throttles through the three plays with comedic precision and an emotional depth usually reserved for pure dramas. It doesn't even matter what side of the stage you're sitting on, because while it is in the round, every audience member's view will be different, and yet the actors a deft enough to act with their whole bodies so that you won't miss a thing. While Norman may be the title character, he's only 1/6th of the play that relies on each character slowly revealing and discovering truths of themselves as the weekend (and our play marathon day) chugs along.

While each play can be entertaining on its own, I personally would recommend either seeing all the plays, or none at all, since seeing one only gives you a taste, but doesn't even remotely reveal the true challenge and triumph the trilogy holds.

Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com


Esther said...

I'm so glad I signed up for all three - my first theatre marathon! Just looking at Stephen Mangan's picture makes it seem hilarious.

Vance said...

I know. I'm actually kinda wanting to see it again. If it didn't cost so much, I would definitely be willing to invest the time again.

Egon Covert said...


I’m writing to tell you about a new website dedicated to THE NORMAN CONQUESTS on Broadway, NormanFans.com (http://normanfans.com), and I’m wondering if you’d be interested in helping us get the word out about this site in exchange for a link trade on our “Norman Friends” page.

All we’re asking is that you place a link or post about NormanFans.com on your site and let us know you’ve done so and then we’ll put a link to your site on this page:


Here’s some text you can use:

NormanFans.com is the community/fan site for the Tony-Award winning Broadway play, THE NORMAN CONQUESTS. At NormanFans.com you can get discount tickets to THE NORMAN CONQUESTS, chat with other Norman Fans about the show, upload photos or reviews relevant to the show, share your experience of seeing the show, or grab banners to put on your website or blog to send traffic to NormanFans.com. And on the first of each month we give away a bunch of FREE TICKETS for those Norman Fans who are most active on the site or sending the most traffic. So if you love THE NORMAN CONQUESTS, Alan Ayckbourn, Stephen Mangan, Jessica Hynes, Matthew Warchus, Kevin Spacey, or any of the people involved with THE NORMAN CONQUESTS, come to NormanFans.com and share your love for Norman!

You may contact me here about the link trade.


Kirk Bromley

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