You might have thought it to be overly ambitious for a small, seaside theatre to mount two plays from the Ayckbourn trilogy The Norman Conquests and run them in repertoire. Helen Leblique’s production of Table Manners – Round and Round the Garden follows briskly behind – does make you wonder why the middle piece (Living Together) has been omitted. Financial constraints?
I first saw the plays in Greenwich way back in 1974. The intricate plotting and deliciously devious characterisations of the dysfunctional family (and one hanger-on) being dissected for our delight is as fresh and as telling as it was nearly 40 years ago. This cast works well together, gaining confidence as the evening progresses.
Norman, who is not merely the title character but the pivot around which everyone else revolves, is one third cuddly bear, one third rough bristles and one third sharp claws. Richard Earl brings out all these elements, so that you understand why his sisters-in-law Annie and Sarah are attracted to him and why he so completely infuriates his career wife Ruth. As Ruth, Daisy Ashford is given the least sympathetic of the women to play while Madeleine Brolly as up-tight Sarah moves from being an irritant to a victim.
Rebecca Todd is Annie, the stay-at-home dutiful daughter at the end of her too-short tether. It’s a good portrait of a recognisable woman about to fade from youth to middle-age. Her brother Reg (Rupert Mason) and veterinary friend Tom (Jamie Chapman) are also neat characterisations, the former of an estate agent not unduly blessed with sensitivity and the latter of a man who probably finds it much easier to relate to suffering dumb animals than to articulate human-beings.