The third part of Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests trilogy always comes over as the most self-contained. Round and Round the Garden both sets the overall scene and tidies up some very stray loose ends further tangled by the libidinous librarian Norman – he, of course, would say that it’s merely his romanticism and desire to give others a good time. The set presents a challenge for any designer working with a small stage; Janice Smelts rises admirably to the challenge.
I’m not so sure about all the performances, however. Ayckbourn always presents women as three-dimensional; Edward Max’s production allows the two sisters and their brother’s wife to take centre stage. Sophia Linden is a compact bundle of not-quite controlled neuroses as Sarah, with Rhiannon Sommers as the business-suited, agile-brained Ruth – who knows (more or less) how to cope with her maverick husband Norman.
Then there’s Annie, the carer for her bedridden mother whose quiet plan for a weekend’s respite (albeit with Norman) everyone else somehow manages to confound. Stephanie Day makes you see why she attracts men as different as brother-in-law Norman (Patrick Marlowe) and neighbouring vet Tom (Alan Mirren). And also why she’s straining at the end of her physical as well as emotional tether.
Mirren’s Tom is a bit rough-round-the-edges, though I could believe in Harry Gostelow as Annie’s estate agent brother Reg. Marlowe’s Norman is funny as he flops from one sort of inebriation to another but doesn’t seem to be properly inside the skin of the part. But it’s never going to be an easy play to put on with minimal rehearsal time and for just a short run.