The run of The Norman Conquests continues apace at the Playhouse, where one of Alan Aykbourn’s series is played out each day, and where all three can be seen back-to-back on ‘trilogy days’.
Set over a weekend of an impromptu family reunion after our protagonist Norman’s plans to slope off with his sister-in-law Annie are foiled, the three plays look at the impact the charismatic, yet unconventional character has on the people around him.
Living Together takes place entirely in the sitting room of the house, and takes the time to examine the dynamics of the relationships of the two married couples, Norman and Ruth (Philip Cumbus and Emily Pithon) and Sarah and Reg (Sarah Tansey and Oliver Birch pictured above). The reluctant blossoming romance between homeowner Annie (Laura Howard) and neighbour Tom (Tom Davey) is put on the backburner.
As such, there’s a more dramatic edge to proceedings than Round and Round the Garden (catch up with the review here), which took place outdoors and was more generally silly all round. The clarity of Philip Wilson’s direction helps simplify this slightly mind-boggling trilogy, which was written by Aykbourn — and rehearsed by this cast — in sequence rather than how the plays were eventually split into three.
It doesn’t matter which order you see them in. As Living Together starts, tensions are already strained between Sarah and Reg (with the assumption the explanation for this lies in the third of the trilogy, Table Manners). Good-natured Reg can’t interest anyone in playing his intricate homemade board game, and Sarah can’t disguise she has already had her head turned by the attentions of Norman, who spends much of the first act face down after too much dandelion wine. The character is already wallowing in self-pity, and his flaws are more apparent than his charms much earlier on than they are in Round and Round the Garden.
Again, the arrival of Norman’s wife Ruth provides some of the play’s strongest moments. Together, Philip Cumbus and Emily Pithon are superb. Pithon was simply hilarious in Round and Round the Garden, but in Living Together Ruth’s vulnerability is revealed in some very touching and tender scenes.
The Norman Conquests again proves irresistible. It is as fascinating to try and fill in the gaps between each couple’s story as it is fun to uncover points that explain things from previous plays.
Round and Round the Garden, Living Together and Table Manners run until June 23. For dates and times, see the Playhouse website.