Five Reasons To See ... The Norman ConquestsDate: 4 May 2012
Alan Ayckbourn’s celebrated comic trilogy The Norman Conquests plays at Liverpool Playhouse later this month. We caught up with the director of the trilogy, Philip Wilson, who shares his five reasons to see these shows.
1. It’s by Alan Ayckbourn
Ayckbourn is one of our most prolific – and most celebrated – playwrights, who, along with Alan Bennett, captures and conveys so perfectly the English tendency towards emotional reticence and fumbling embarrassment. And The Norman Conquests are some of his best – and best-loved – pieces: when, a few years back, the National Theatre held a poll of the nation’s favourite plays of the 20th century, Norman deservedly won for 1974.
2. It’s not a history lesson
Apart from a few passing references to Hastings, the plays have nothing at all to do with 1066. Rather, Ayckbourn has created a marvellous dissection of family life, charting the comic and chaotic events over one weekend in rural Sussex. We follow the attempt by Norman – an assistant librarian with an insatiable sexual appetite – to whisk his sister-in-law, Annie, off for a dirty weekend in East Grinstead… with disastrous, and hilarious, consequences. Basically, anyone who has sat down to a family meal, or heard someone suggest ‘Shall we play a game?’, or made uncertain efforts to express their feelings for someone else will recognize their own experiences, and have a great time.
3. It’s going to look amazing
The sets are by Tony Award-nominated designer Matthew Wright, who has recreated a huge and very detailed section of a dilapidated Victorian house on stage, complete with Sixties and Seventies furniture (not least a gloriously awful brown nylon fur rug), and an overgrown garden – with real plants and bushes.
4. The audience are cast in the role of detective
Rather brilliantly, Ayckbourn ensures that each play stands alone, even if ingeniously it doesn’t reveal the whole story. You have an opportunity to view events from a different vantage-point – the dining-room, the sitting-room and the garden – and to see the story from a different perspective. So, in one play, you may be at the fringe of some action, but at the centre of something else; and in another, you learn exactly what is going on in the next room. The plot and the characters grow richer and more complex as different interactions play out, and facts are revealed. In this way, the audience play detective, piecing the puzzle together from various clues; and this adds to the enjoyment of seeing the trilogy in its entirety.
5. It’s three times the fun
These plays are a joy to watch – they are so funny (and heartbreaking, at times) and true to life – and the cast are terrific, across the board. Besides, in the present climate, we need all the laughs we can get!
The Norman Conquests is at the Liverpool Playhouse from May 25 to June 23.