Reviewed by on    Theatre in Ottawa and the region.  

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah Photo by David Whiteley

AL Connors as Norman and Margo MacDonald as Sarah
Photo by David Whiteley

The Norman Conquests is a trilogy. It takes place in a family house in the British countryside, where Annie lives with her invalid mother. She plans to spend a weekend with her sister’s (Ruth) husband, Norman, in a hotel. Everything is set. Her admirer and neighbour Tom believes that she is to go alone, but actually wants him to come with her and Annie’s brother Reg and his wife Sara come to stay with their mother for that weekend. However, somehow things come askew, and they all  end up spending the weekend together as Annie’s guests. 

In the third part of The Norman Conquests, Round and Round the Garden, Ayckbourn still deals with the same domestic issues as in the previous two (Table Manners and Living Together). The characters are the same and it is the same weekend, but while Table Manners takes place in the dining room and Living Together in the living room, Round and Round the Garden is set in the garden. With the last part of the trilogy performed, this outstanding play wraps up in a meaningful way as a combination of a comedy of manners, domestic turmoil and above all, a fantastic character study.

Although comedy might seem to be a lighter genre of drama because of its humorous approach to reality, it is probably the hardest one to pull off. Because it is so easy to go overboard and make it a clownish non-artistic performance, it demands a huge amount of talent and innate sense of balance.    

As I said once, to do it right, it takes a master of comedy, just what John P. Kelly is. He manages to firmly control all the threads of the storyline and to keep the drama unfolding while making us laugh so hard that our every muscle hurts. From one part of the trilogy to another, a brilliant cast continues to amaze us with the characters of this dysfunctional family and make us fall in love in them regardless of their numerous faults.

In Round and Round the Garden, the female characters are perfectly developed. Margo MacDonald’s Sarah finally shows her softer side. Suddenly, the cold and proper bully discovers her passionate side, while Annie reveals her complex personality – from meek to adamant and purposeful. Ruth is still intelligent and rational,but this time she expands her role to a new high. Ruth is so much more than rational and intelligent, probably because of her capacity to understand the nature of love and to love unconditionally. Julie Le Gal is absolutely natural in her role, so much so that it is hard to imagine her any any different in her real life.

Of course, AL Connors as Norman is still a perfect selfish seducer in search for attention and love. David Whiteley’s slow-witted Tom is as self-absorbed as ever, only this time he shows his vain side, too, and Steve Martin’s Reg never fails to attract us with his “Peter Pan” characteristics – he remains a boy that refuses to grow up.

With beautifully portrayed characters, an intelligent reading of the script and subtle approach, the last part of the Norman Conquest trilogy is as successful as the other two. Altogether, it is a huge achievement: consistent in narrative as well as in character development and wonderfully wrapped up. This production is an absolute treat for anyone who appreciates true art packaged in a good laugh. 

I cannot wait for October 10, when all three shows play!

The Norman Conquests

By Alan Ayckbourn

Co-produced by Seven Thirty Productions and Plosive Productions at the Gladstone

Table Manners: August 28 to September 5 and in repertory September 30 to October 10.

Living Together:  September 11 to 19 and in rep October 1 to 10.

Round and Round the Garden: September 25 and 26 and in rep September 29 to October 10.

All three shows play on October 10.

Director: John P. Kelly

Asst. director: Nicolas Alain

Set and lighting: David Magladry

Sound: Steven Lafond

Costumes: Vanessa Imeson

Cast:

Norman………………………………………………………AL Connors

Annie…………………………………………………………Michelle LeBlanc

Ruth…………………………………………………………..Julie Le Gal

Sarah………………………………………………………….Margo MacDonald

Reg……………………………………………………………Steve Martin

Tom……………………………………………………………David Whiteley