For audiences who either know the trilogy of Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests from its outings elsewhere or from Helen Leblique’s production of Table Manners which opened last week and runs in repertory with Round and Round the Garden, the jigsaw pieces begin to slip more comfortably into their allotted slots as the story develops.
This time we are in the garden of the country house where Annie (Rebecca Todd) is looking after her bed-ridden querulous mother; her married siblings and their spouses having more or less opted out of the responsibility. The spotlight falls this time more on veterinary neighbour Tom (Jamie Chapman) and Annie sister Ruth (Daisy Ashford) as Annie’s frustrations with her life and other people’s roles in it boil up and over.
By now, the company is obviously comfortable working together and paces the fun – as well as the more serious moments – with considerable style. Ashford makes Ruth’s edginess much more understandable, even sympathetic, in her encounter with Tom. You can also see why Tom is so much more at ease with dumb creatures than with articulate human-beings, especially those of the female variety.
Rupert Mason’s Reg and Madeleine Brolly’s Sarah are less prominent in this episode. Norman himself – the ebullient Richard Earl – continues as the pivot of the play, though here it becomes clearer that both his uninhibited nature and the rose briars wreak more damage than is apparent on the surface. That deckchair with ominous tears – what would have happened if Norman chose to settle in it?