The Norman Conquests: Articles by Alan Ayckbourn

This section contains various programme articles about The Norman Conquests by both Alan Ayckbourn and other authors, by Alan Ayckbourn. Click on a link below to access the articles.

The Norman Conquests programme notes by Alan Ayckbourn

Make Yourself At Home (Library Theatre 1973 production programme note)
In proscenium arch theatre, an audience is often required to imagine they are witnessing the action of a play through the ‘fourth wall’ of a room. Theatre-in-the-round, on the other hand, asks its audience, frequently, to become all four walls.
Tonight we see events in the lives of a family, from the point of view of the living room, over a single weekend. Complementing this and running in repertoire with it, are different views of the same period of time seen from the dining room
Fancy Meeting You and the garden Round And Round The Garden. For me it is a new, and as far as I know, untried experiment in comedy. I hope you enjoy these three views of characters - from a choice of four directions. Which makes about 64 different ways of looking at it….

The Norman Conquests (Greenwich Theatre 1974 production flyer note)
The Norman Conquests concern not William the Conqueror but a new, dynamic modern hero, Norman the Assistant Librarian.
This new Norman's ambitions of conquest are as equally far-reaching though - his wife's sister, his sister-in-law and his wife. Here is a romantic who, after himself, loves no one so much as the woman he can't have.
Over the course of the three plays, each playing on a separate night, we follow the course of this pursuit by the awkward of the unattainable; of Norman's flailing attempts to bring happiness to everyone and satisfaction for himself.
The plays tell and retell of the turbulently comic events that occur in a house over a country weekend. Each is seen from a different viewpoint: from the dining room (
Table Manners), from the living room (Living Together) and from the garden (Round And Round The Garden).
They can be seen in any order since, like a three-ended ball of string, it doesn't really matter where you start to unravel. See one, see two or, to qualify for the special Norman Award for Lack of Industry, see all three.

The Norman Conquests (Greenwich Theatre 1974 production programme note)
The three plays (
Table Manners, Living Together and Round And Round The Garden) that go to make up The Norman Conquests were first produced, as were the majority of my previous plays, at the Library Theatre in Scarborough.
My writing career has always been inextricably tied to this company, initially as a result of encouragement from its late director and founder, Stephen Joseph. He was a man who believed that where possible playwrights belonged inside theatre companies, whether as actors, directors or box office assistants. At that time, apart from the more distinguished ones, authors were worried looking men who came to first readings, left, causing sighs of relief all round and occasionally, if they were allowed in, turned up at the dress rehearsal looking by now distinctly alarmed.
I count myself extremely fortunate in that when I started on my writing career I not only had a ready market for my work but was already an accepted member of the group who produced it. Not always the most painless way to learn one's mistakes but then actors with eight and a half second quick changes can be brutally frank at times.
I later inherited the job of director at Scarborough and, amongst other things, took full advantage of this by continuing to commission from myself one play a year.
The disadvantages of always writing for this tiny 250 seater theatre-in-the-round - rarely more than six actors to call on and only two entrances on stage - are outweighed by the need for me to meet deadlines, the freedom to experiment and the sheer pleasure of working for at least part of the year, directly, with actors and audiences.
The Norman Conquests were the result of my 1973 commission from myself. They were intended to be played, as they will be in Greenwich, in repertoire alternating night by night. Although very closely related thematically and in every other way they were meant to be enjoyed as individual plays. I realised the unlikelihood of an audience necessarily being able to see the plays either in any correct order or indeed that they could automatically find time to see all three anyway.
It is a dangerous thing to claim any sort of innovation in the theatre so I will merely say that this sort of thing hasn't been done all that often before.
It has always seemed to me that one of my main pleasures to be had in theatre is that of watching good actors blending skill with an enjoyment for what they are doing. It's my hope that these plays give them the opportunity to display this and, for the audience, the pleasure of sharing it with them.

The Norman Conquests (Unrecorded production programme note)
If you are in the process of reading this Programme, the chances are that you are already about to see, are in the midst of seeing, or have already seen, at least one of the plays that form
The Norman Conquests. In which case, this advice is not for you. Do not read on.
For those who have seen none of the plays but may be wishing to do-so, it is hoped that the following notes may prove useful.
The first thing to remember is, understandably, don't see
Table Manners first. This will give you a wrong time sequence and will only confuse you when you come to see, say, Living Together which, incidentally, you are strongly advised not to see second. Ideally, Round And Round The Garden should not be seen before you have seen Table Manners - but do not, on the other hand, fall into that old trap of seeing Round And Round The Garden after Living Together as this again will confuse the sequences of dramatic events. Do not see Living Together first as this will severely curtail a lot of the pleasure you gain from seeing Table Manners for the first time which latter play, for maximum enjoyment you should try and save till the end.
In short, do try and see all three plays first, or, if you really can't manage this, last. This way you will avoid any disappointment. Like most things in this world, there is a logical progression i.e. Parts 1, 3 and finally of course, 2.

The Norman Conquests (unrecorded 1974 production programme note)
The Norman Conquests are three full-length comedies which can, I hope, be enjoyed individually and in no particular order. I have avoided whenever possible referring to them as a trilogy since this generally suggests a continuing sequence in which enjoyment of one essentially depends on knowledge or anticipation of the other two.
Naturally, having said this, any three plays that concern the same six characters must, in some way, be related. In the case of
The Norman Conquests very closely, since each concerns the same characters in the same house over the same weekend - all viewed from a different standpoint. Round And Round The Garden is seen from the garden, Living Together from the living room and Table Manners from the dining room.
Writing a play is always, to some extent, a matter of selecting events that one wishes to show on stage. It is often, say in the case of a one-set play, necessary to reshuffle and manoeuvre events so that what you want to happen can happen where you want it to happen. And there are variations to be done on this. In
Absurd Person Singular, currently at the Criterion, particularly in the first act, I deliberately selected a view from the kitchen rather than the more usual sitting or living room. This device provides much of the scene's comic momentum, since we are placed on the fringe of the action, rather than at the centre of it.
In
The Norman Conquests, we are always at the fringe of some action and at the centre of something else, depending on which play we're watching. It is my hope that, whichever play one chooses to see first, it can be enjoyed in its own right even if, ultimately, one becomes sufficiently curious to know a little more about the characters and their offstage lives.

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