When I saw Table Manners, the first play in Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests, I was utterly enchanted, both by the play itself as well as the expert cast of six. (Read my review.) I wasn't sure I was going to be able to get down to the city to to see the other two plays, but was really glad that I had seen at least one.
When I heard my blogger buddy Esther at Gratuitous Violins was planning on taking in the entire marathon this past Saturday, I decided to join her for Living Together and Round and Round the Garden. Such was my anticipation leading up to the event, at the last minute I buckled and got a ticket to see Table Manners again on the same day. On marathon days, the shows play at 11:30 AM, 3:30 PM, and 8 PM, so Esther and I got to spend a lot of quality time together at lunch, and then met Steve on Broadway and his significant other for dinner.
Having been exposed to Table Manners, and all the revelations and comic goings-on therein, I was wondering whether Ayckbourn would be able to keep the laughs and the surprises coming. And one of the things that makes this trilogy so compelling is that he does indeed, right to the very end of the third play. There's no question that any one of the plays by itself would be a satisfying evening of theater, but there really is a tremendous cumulative effect to seeing all three. I'm not sure it's entirely necessary to see them all in the same day, but all the better if you can.
No small part of the joy of this particular production lies in its performers. Stephen Magnan is an absolute powerhouse as the eponymous Norman, evoking both sympathy and outrage by turns. Ben Miles is an understated stitch as the dim-witted Tom. Amanda Root somehow manages to make the potentially shrill Sarah both hysterical (in both senses of the word) and poignant. Jessica Hynes puts on the slow burn as the dowdy but potentially explosive Annie. Paul Ritter brings a credible depth to the dorky but delightful Reg. And Amelia Bullmore gives the distant but desperate Ruth just enough edge to make her sharp, but also sufficient vulnerability to render the character believable. Throw in Matthew Warchus's genius direction, and you have a about as satisfying a day in the theater as you are ever likely to experience.
Despite the critical success of the shows, they're unlikely to recoup their initial investment. The production has been playing to 90% capacity, but most of the tickets have been discounted. That's unfortunate for the producers, but for playgoers it means that you still have a chance to see any combination of these shows at a considerable discount. The production plays at the Circle in the Square Theater through this Sunday. If you haven't seen The Norman Conquests yet, make every reasonable effort to do so. I promise you won't be disappointed.