The Norman Conquests: A Comic Trilogy
Liverpool Playhouse Theatre
May 25 – June 23, 2012
Author: Alan Ayckbourn
Director: Philip Wilson
Producer: Everyman Playhouse
Cast: Oliver Birch, Laura Howard, Tom Davey, Emily Pithon, Philip Cumbus, Sarah Tansey.
A trilogy of plays that set the theatre world alight in 1973, Alan Ayckbourn’s The Norman Conquests endures superbly well mostly, it can be suggested, because no matter what time period the plays are staged the characters, the setting – a country house in which a traumatic family get together goes from bad to very much worse with hilarious consequences – and the dialogue are all so familiar.
This production in particular delivers and is aided and abetted by a simply stunning set that deserves its own round applause. Yet it is the cast who truly excel, with Laura Howard – TV’s Cully Barnard from Midsomer Murders – as Annie, the initial object of Norman’s desire, Tom Davey as, erm, Tom, the nice but dim vet who loves Annie but is too withdrawn to realise it, and Philip Cumbus as Norman himself, the philandering and misunderstood perennial schoolboy every man in the audience wants to be.
This is not to say that Emily Pithon as hard-edged Ruth, Norman’s wife, Sarah Tansey as, erm, Sarah or Oliver Birch as Reg in any way let the side down because they don’t. Yet it is the former three that conduct proceedings because, ostensibly, each play is each of their character’s story, and so each actor is thrust ever deeper into the limelight.
This is the beauty of Ayckbourn’s writing, that a trio of plays revolving around one scenario can blend so well that not all need to be taken in – though the full benefit of the magic of his writing will shine brighter if audiences did take in all three in no particular order – for the whole individual production to be understood.
The Norman Conquests is extremely clever theatre and, thanks to some superb direction, staging and performances, will be one of the highlights of Liverpool theatre this summer.