The Norman Conquests: Quotes by Other People

This page includes quotes about the play The Norman Conquests by people other than Alan Ayckbourn, predominantly drawn from books and articles about Alan Ayckbourn or British theatre; it does not include quotes from reviews, which can be found in the Reviews pages.

"These plays [The Norman Conquests] are still comedies, but they undermine rather than reinforce the permanence of middle-class values and the essential happiness of domesticity. Marriage is the beginning, not the end, of disappointment, and behind the resolutely cheery tone of the dialogue lies the misery of a much deeper isolation."
(Paul Allen, The Old Vic The Norman Conquests 2008 programme)

"Although many of the characters are drawn from his own family background, Ayckbourn's stated interest is in something he perceives as more universal: 'This adult/woman and child/man relationship is pretty common.' However, he recently reiterated (to the audience at the Cheltenham Literary Festival in 2002) that Reg, Norman and Tom were all aspects of himself, adding that he would have liked to be more like Norman but was afraid he was most like Tom."
(Paul Allen: A Pocket Guide to Alan Ayckbourn’s Plays, 2004, Faber)

Ayckbourn's point is that Norman, agent of chaos, is not some magnetically attractive Don Juan or bronzed Adonis. Norman is a ragbag whose instinctive passion for sexual conquest coincides with a feeling of unhappiness and disappointment in the women he part-seduces. Norman is simply the outlet for all their banked-up frustrations."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

"Norman's lust may be the trilogy's activating factor and the litmus paper that reveals people's unhappiness. Under the general hilarity, however, one feels that all six of Ayckbourn's characters are in some way strange or blighted. Norman himself is a shambling Fulham gigolo with an uncontrollable need to be loved but married to Ruth who is so full of the success ethic that she does not have any time left for people. Reg is stuck in a dream of perpetual, hobby-filled adolescence (he has one particularly wistful speech about boyhood happiness making balsa-wood aeroplanes) but eternally hitched to Sarah who treats life like a railway timetable. Annie is chained to a sick mother and waiting for some positive emotional commitment from Tom, the lugubrious vet who takes a good thirty seconds to decide whether or not he wants his coffee black or white."
(Michael Billington: Alan Ayckbourn, 1990, Palgrave)

"I fell in love with Alan Ayckbourn the day I met him and, starting with The Norman Conquests, went on to do eight plays with him. He tells you just what you want to know and has a brilliant way of solving problems."
(Michael Gambon, The Guardian, 20 May 2014)

"The Norman Conquests is a trilogy of plays, perhaps most famous for having no offstage action. By making the offstage action of one play the onstage action of another, the whole work describes an eventful weekend in a house. Each play stands alone, but each contains the offstage action unseen but implied in the other two. When a character moves from one room in the first play, he enters another setting in the next one. Thus, to see all three plays is to see all the action both onstage and off. It is an incredible demonstration of playwriting skill, which enhances immeasurably the performances for those audience members who see more than one of the three plays. But it is not just the technical feat that sticks in the mind on seeing these plays. As Frank Rich says, 'The Norman Conquests is not only funny but impossibly wise about sex, marriage, love and loneliness'. Alan Ayckbourn turns once more to focus on the sexual and social mores which govern the interplay of men and women."
(Michael Holt: Alan Ayckbourn, 1999, Northcote Press)

"Norman is like many of Ayckbourn's central male characters. Their role is to be the cause of chaos, infecting and upsetting the status quo. Sometimes, like Norman, they are too self-obsessed to notice, and sometimes they are painfully aware of the effect they are having, but quite unable to handle the situation."
(Michael Holt: Alan Ayckbourn, 1999, Northcote Press)

"The male-female relationship with its dream of blissful happiness is reduced in The Norman Conquests to the comedy of furtive groping and interrupted coupling."
(Albert E. Kalson: Laughter In The Dark, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"The Norman Conquests is the rare play in which some spectators enjoy a wider perspective than others, resulting in a curious response; although the entire audience is being entertained, the veterans among them are having a better time than the newcomers to the situation."
(Albert E. Kalson: Laughter In The Dark, 1991, Associated Universities Press)

"The way Ayckbourn has interwoven the three plays is extremely ingenious. Events occurring in one are referred to in another, and the audience gets a comfortable glow of recognition as they discover what is happening in the living room that caused comment in the dining room or vice versa."
(Oleg Kerensky: The New British Drama, 1977, Hamish Hamilton)

"The complications with The Norman Conquests trilogy was doing three plays at once. At Greenwich we rehearsed them for six weeks. I placed all three plays in one week. I wanted the actors to vaguely know how each one related to the others. Then I rehearsed all three for about a fortnight. Then I gradually phased out the last one and just rehearsed two, then phased out another and just rehearsed one. And opened one, and 10 days after that, the second, and 10 days after that, the third."
(Eric Thompson - director of the original London production, The Times, 27 July 1974)

"l wanted to do them [
The Norman Conquests] as they were first done in the round. Ayckbourn's writing is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. In an ordinary proscenium arch theatre the conventional comedy wins out over their subtle bleakness. In the round, you just have this island of agony. The shocking side, the sadness, is more balanced with the laughs."
(Matthew Warchus - director, Daily Telegraph, August 2009)

"This [the Old Vic's 2008] revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy from 1973 proved it to be solid theatrical gold, still astonishingly fresh and funny. Filled with painfully accurate portraits of marriages and affairs in various states of decay, it also had a fantastically complex structure that was nothing but pleasure."
(The Times, 13 December 2009 - naming The Norman Conquests as one of its theatre events of the decade)

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.