An uninhibited libido in the guise of a shaggy headed slightly pot-bellied rumpled librarian, Norman (Stephen Mangan), makes for a riotous good time in the superlative British import of Alan Ayckbourn’s masterful 1973 trilogy, The Norman Conquests The Broadway revival (winner of the 2008 Tony Award for best revival of a play) features the original heralded cast of six from London’s Old Vic giving a master class in acting under the skillful eye of Tony Award winning director Matthew Warchus, who carves out continuous waves of hilarious moments intermingled with profound insights.
“A man with my type of temperament should really be ideally square-jawed, broad-shouldered and have blue twinkling eyes,” confesses Norman to his sister in law Annie (Jessica Hynes), while munching down a bowl of Kellogg’s Puffa Puffa Rice cereal in the first act of Table Manners. “He should get through three women a day without even ruffling his hair. That’s what I’m like inside. I’m a three-a-day man.”
The Norman Conquests is three full length plays set in the dining room (Table Manners), living room (Living Together), and garden (Round and Round the Garden) of a country house in England. Each play offers a different view of Norman’s attempts at seduction over the same disastrous weekend in the lives of six spouses and in-laws at their middle class family home, where their never seen bed-ridden mother is confined upstairs. Each play is complete on its own or can be viewed in any order, but once you have witnessed the shocking interactions of these outrageously delicious characters I doubt you will be able to resist coming back for more of their hidden secrets and deceits.
The action follows the six characters over the same July weekend from Saturday night through Monday morning, while we watch Norman, a desperate lothario, attempt to seduce his sister-in-law Annie (who had a one night stand with him) charm is brother-in-law’s overbearing wife Sarah (Amanda Root) and woo his estranged workaholic wife Ruth (Amelia Bullmore) during an hysterical weekend of never ending misunderstandings. The other two men our Reg (Paul Ritter) Sarah’s hen pecked husband, and Tom (Ben Miles) a mild mannered vegetarian who is unable to demonstrate his desire for Annie.
Staged in the round as the playwright intended, the story takes off when Reg and Sarah arrive to give Annie a weekend off from caring for their invalid mother. Unbeknown to them Annie was planning a weekend away with Norman, because Tom’s inability to make any sexual advances has left her increasingly frustrated. Ayckbourn puts his hapless characters under his microscope, while exposing the disappointments brewing just beneath the surface, as their perplexing dreams of love and fulfillment go astray in their tangled lives. He makes many keen observations on family and relationships with his characteristic unrelenting wit.
And the captivating actors, who won this year’s Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Ensemble, are perfectly irresistible. They deliver the playwrights unrelenting barrage of achingly funny dialogue with zestful glee, while never failing to play the pathos bubbling beneath the crumbling façade.
If you only have the time for one we recommend Table Manners, but we bet you’ll be ready for more of Norman’s efforts at seduction.
By: Gordin & Christiano
Originally Published in Dan’s Papers
The Norman Conquests is playing at the Circle in the Square, 235 West 50th Street between Broadway and Eighth Avenue. For tickets and information on the running schedule go to www.telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200 or visit the box office.