Director: Philip Wilson
Reviewer: John Roberts
Alan Ayckbourn has certainly carved himself a much deserved place in the playwright hall of fame, having recently topped a poll to find the best playwright of the last 60 years.
Written in 1973 and produced in Scarborough, The Norman Conquests trilogy are three individual interlocking plays (Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden,) which can be viewed independently or in any order. Each chapter revealing a unique insight into a fated almost naughty weekend with Annie (Laura Howard) and her sister’s husband Norman (Philip Cumbus) as they plot a a getaway to a hotel in East Grinstead.
There is a unique charm to the trilogy much alike watching re runs of classic British sitcoms of the 1970s and 80s, filled with strong charicatures that you just love to hate but you cant help but be won over by their unique charms, foibles and idiosyncrasies.
Matthew Wright’s stunning revolving set is a perfect fit for the play and the theatre and at times has such depth and detail, from the delightful in blossom garden, to the dark intimidating tones of the wooden mahogany lounge that it almost feels like a character in the piece itself.
Philip Wilson directs with precision, having rehearsed the pieces initially in chronological order of scenes, rather than the individual plays that you see on stage, this brings with it a much needed awareness of the piece, meaning every nuance and decision made and performed by his cast are there for a reason.
It is no surprise then that the cast are uniformly excellent; Tom Davey as the socially awkward Tom is delightfully naive, Oliver Birch as the rather annoying Reg really comes into his own during Living Together, while Sarah Tansey as Reg’s wife Sarah runs the show with a matriarchal whip.
Emily Pithon has always been a strong ensemble member and here is no different, her shortsighted Ruth is a pleasure to watch. Laura Howard brings a powerful turn as put-upon Annie, but it is Philip Cumbus as the “Magnetic” Norman that steals the show, his bearded exterior equally matching his characters scruffy interior is frightful, witty and sensitive in equal measures.
The Norman Conquests as with all Ayckbourn plays provide plenty to laugh at, but also plenty to reflect upon, his writing makes the lightest elements light and the darkest moments dark, proving that almost 40 years since its premiere this trilogy still packs a punch, and this production by the Liverpool Playhouse is seriously in the heavyweight category.