Broadcast text review: THE NORMAN CONQUESTS

by Lynn on October 18, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

The following review was broadcast on Friday, October 18, 2013, CIUT FRIDAY MORNING, 89.5FM: The Norman Conquests, at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District until November 16.

Phil Taylor was the guest host. 


Good Friday morning. It’s theatre fix time with Lynn Slotkin, our theatre critic and passionate playgoer.

Hi Lynn


Good morning Phil.


1) What do you have for us today?


I’m reviewing The Norman Conquests by prolific British playwright, Alan Ayckbourn. Over the last 40 years Mr. Ayckbourn has written about 77 plays, but I haven’t checked his website this morning, so he might have added three more plays.

The Norman Conquests was written in 1973. And it’s composed of three separate plays with the same theme, that take place over one weekend, in different parts of a house.

The separate plays are: Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round the Garden. And just to be even more perverse, Ayckbourn has  the action of all three plays take place simultaneously. Table Manners takes place in the dining room. Living Together takes place in the living room. And of course, Round and Round the Garden takes place outside in the garden.


2) What is the story?


First the cast of characters. Annie is a harried woman, worn-out from looking after her demanding, invalid mother, whom we never see. Annie lives in the house with her mother. Annie has told her family she is going away by herself for the weekend and so needs someone to relieve her in taking care of the mother. So she asks her brother Reg and his wife Sarah to come down to take care of her.

While Annie seems to have a beau in Tom, the local vet, Tom is a reticent, twitchy man with no gumption or sense of irony. It would never occur to him to ask Annie to go away with him for the weekend. That suggestion is left to Norman. Norman has convinced Annie to come away with him for the weekend, and Annie has fallen under his spell and said a giddy yes.  Never mind that Norman is married to Ruth, the humourless, workaholic sister of Annie and Reg.

The Norman Conquests center around Norman. He’s a charming slob. He seems like a puppy of a man. And while women might find his humourous, ineffectual ways exasperating, they are quietly charmed  by him. All they want to do is take him in hand and reform him; clean him up; go away for a dirty weekend. His main talent is wanting to make people happy, mainly women.  So he has proposed a ‘dirty weekend’ to Annie for starters.


3) So how do these stories play out?


The formats are similar of course since they are happening at the same time. Reg and Sarah arrive for this short weekend laden with luggage. Annie greets them giving them instructions on what to do. When Reg and Sarah go off, Annie is surprised to see Norman hiding in the bushes because they were to meet in the village and go from there. He says he misses her and wanted to see her. Somehow Annie tells Sarah about her plans and Sarah takes it upon herself to phone Ruth in London who comes down to see what’s happened.

 Added to this is Tom who keeps wandering around looking for a sick cat he has to tend too. Over the weekend, Norman gets roaring drunk; Annie has second thoughts; Tom is a twit; husbands and wives argue; and in they end they try to go home. Every time a character leaves the stage, it’s to go into another room or in the garden and we see how that plays out as well.

 So if they are in the dining room in Table Manners and hear a loud noise in the garden we see what the cause of that loud noise is in Round and Round the Garden.

 The accomplishment of Ayckbourn to have juggled all three plays to play our at the same time, is a stunning accomplishment.


4) Does it matter in what order you see the plays?


Ayckbourn says it’s best to see all of them first. No it doesn’t matter because each play stands alone. We get the story and see how the pieces fit. And it’s so interesting to see the comings and goings and keeping track of where they are coming from and going to as you see the different plays.


5) How’s the production?


I’m taking all three as a whole and they are terrific. It’s the melding of six wonderful actors and their gifted director, Ted Dykstra. There is such nuance and subtlety in the humour and they all make us look harder. For example, Reg, Annie and Ruth (siblings) have a snorting laugh at times. Love that touch.

 Sarah, played by Fiona Reid, is a fussy, controlling woman. She never met a chair she didn’t want to adjust a touch or a perfect table setting that could not be improved by moving a plate a millimetre.

As Reg, Sarah’s hen-pecked husband, Derek Boyes is valiant as an exasperated man trying to deal with Sarah, and happy to be out of her company occasionally. As Annie, Laura Condlln is the picture of exhaustion, clothes thrown on, hair in her face, frustrated with Tom; excited about going away with Norman, but conflicted. It’s a lovely performance full of passion, yearning and desperation.

 As Tom, Oliver Dennis is a walking uncertainty. Tom never knows what to say or how to say it. He is a mass of ticks, hesitations, awkwardness and he’s hilarious.

 By contrast Sarah Mennell as Ruth, is matter of fact, a bit condescending, frustrated by Norman and full of irony. And the reason for the title, as Norman, Albert Schultz is a dishevelled, galumphing schlump of a man, fearless in any situation; funny and endearing.

You can see director Ted Dykstra’s presence everywhere from the most subtle of body language to the most obvious bits of business. He draws the humour out of every situation and it’s true and honest to the moment.

 The Norman Conquests is a good time in the theatre. You can see one but I recommend you see them all for the full effect of a playwright who is brilliantly inventive and a company who are terrific and rise to the occasion.


Thanks Lynn. That’s Lynn Slotkin our theatre critic and passionate playgoer. You can read Lynn’s blog at

 The Norman Conquests play at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts in the Distillery District.

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