The Norman Conquests: World Premiere Reviews

The following reviews mark the only two publications to review all three plays in the trilogy during its original production at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. At the time, two of the plays had different titles (and it was not known as The Norman Conquests trilogy). The altered play names are Fancy Meeting You (later retitled Table manners) and Make Yourself At Home (later retitled Living Together). Extracts from reviews of the original West End production of The Norman Conquests can be found here.

Fancy Meeting You In Scarborough (by Robin Thornber)
"Every year for the past few years Alan Ayckbourn has written a new comedy for the summer season of theatre in the round he directs at Scarborough Library. Some of them, like
Relatively Speaking, and How The Other Half Loves go into the West End. Time And Time Again has just finished at the Comedy and last year's offering at Scarborough Absurd Person Singular, opens at the Criterion next month. Mr Ayckbourn clearly finds traditional boulevard comedy less than totally demanding. His material shows the usual preoccupation with middle-class marital embarrassments although the writing is upbeat and flip, with more than usual social awareness and psychological perception. But his real talent lies in the ingenuity with which he revitalises conventional dramatic forms.
This year he's written three plays. They all deal with the same fraught family weekend, but each takes its slice of action from a different part of the house. So the first play, which opened this week, stays in the dining room. And as the characters come on and off they are walking into the plots of
Make Yourself At Home, which opens next Monday and happens in the living-room, or Round And Round The Garden, which comes into the repertory next month. Each play is complete in itself and they can be seen in any order.
Fancy Meeting You is inevitably a bit like one of those paragraphs headed, "New Readers Begin Here;" There's dumpy, frowsy Annie (Rosalind Adams) left at home looking after Mum while her bluff brother Reg (Stanley Page) and chilly sister Ruth (Janet Dale) have gone off to marry a highly-strung Sarah (Alex Marshall) and a passionately romantic Norman (Christopher Godwin) respectively, Norman invites Annie - who you will realise is his sister-in-law - to a dirty weekend in East Grinstead; and now read on. Amazingly, it works. The whole company plays with a deliciously restrained degree of zest, particularly during a disastrously high-pitched meal, or rather a row round the dining table, which is typically Ayckbourn. If the play seemed sometimes slow and eventually overlong, that's what the Scarborough season is there to find out."
(The Guardian, 20 June 1973)

Make Yourself At Home In Scarborough (by Robin Thornber)
"I wrote down a few of the jokes to pass on to you. But you wouldn't really appreciate them. They wilt like cut blooms when you take them from their context. It's partly because Alan Ayckbourn's new play,
Make Yourself At Home, is the middle one of a series of three, all about the same family house party.
I saw the first one,
Fancy Meeting You, and it gave this an extra dimension of underlying chuckle, a nudge and a wink every now and then like someone at a party with a private joke. It also, of course, meant that you knew the basic structure of the plot. But the story of Norman's disastrous attempt to seduce his wife's sister has enough new twists to keep you biting your nails until the third glimpse of chaos Round And Round The Garden comes into the repertory next month.
But there's more to it than that. Mr Ayckbourn's hothouse jokes go all limp and sorry when you turn them over in your hand because they belong not only to the plot but also to the cockpit atmosphere of that intense little theatre-in-the-round in Scarborough Library.
This may sound high flown for what is, after all, nothing more than a light-hearted seaside comedy. But the company, directed by Alan Ayckbourn, succeeds through enthusiasm and meticulously observed acting in building up an emotional involvement that sucks you in like a whirlpool. Ronald Herdman's plodding, naive vet; Rosalind Adams's long suffering Annie, waiting for him to propose; Stanley Page's genial hen-pecked Reg; and Alex Marshall's hyper-tense, organising wife; Janet Dale's superior Ruth, and Christopher Godwin's gangling ebullient Norman: you get to know and love - and recognise - them all."
(The Guardian, 27 June 1973)

Round And Round The Garden (by Robin Thornber)
"So there's Norman rolling on the grass with Annie, when his wife Ruth, who is Annie's sister, comes on and so Tom, who is Annie's boy friend, grabs Ruth, because he thinks she fancies him, although she doesn't really, and then Sarah is shocked because she thought Norman was after her and poor old Reg, her husband, can't roll around with anybody because Annie and Ruth are his sisters - you make take notes if you think it will help.
Round And Round The Garden is the third in a trio of new comedies written and directed by Alan Ayckbourn for the summer season of Theatre-in-the-Round at Scarborough Library. This one deals with what was going on in the garden, while Fancy Meeting You and Make Yourself At Home which opened in repertory last month, looked at what was happening in the dining room and living room respectively, during the same weekend. Got that? Good.
Each play is complete in itself and you can see them in any order. But for the next couple of weeks at least they'll be run so that you can see all three in series on consecutive nights. And taken together, as they really should be, unless you are content to be only 30 per cent muddled, they amount to a lot of laughs. Big rollicking belly laughs at the broad farce, nudging, knowing, sniggers at the way developments of plot and character are linked from play to play and quiet chuckles of recognition at the tell-tale minutiae.
You might occasionally experience a nagging irritation that Mr Ayckbourn's ingenuity as both a writer and director should be spent, even squandered, on matters so trivial. His brittle brilliance, and the closely observed and enthusiastically performed playing of Stanley Page, Alex Marshall, Janet Dale, Christopher Godwin, Rosalind Adams, and Ronald Herdman, all the acute social and psychological perception of both director and company seems wasted on a middle-class marital romp. But mostly you're too caught up in it all, too disarmed by the charm of these flawed and fallible loveable little people with their limited aspirations and lesser achievements. You're laughing too much for such carping thoughts.
And then look at the audience, talk to the performers. As one of the company said to me last time, this is one place where your idealism comes back."
(The Guardian, 11 July 1973)

Simple Pleasure
"Alan Ayckbourn, so far as I know, has never claimed that his plays - at least, those which first see the light of day at Scarborough - are anything more than enjoyable comedies. An Ayckbourn evening is characteristically one of simple pleasure, unfettered by brow-wrinkling "messages" or the sort of inner meaning other playwrights like to think their work possesses.
The idea of three separate plays taking as their theme the action of a single week-end, seen from various parts of a large house, is an ingenious one,
Fancy Meeting You, the first of these, views the week-end as seen in the dining-room, into which a varied collection of very recognisable characters erupt.
As with all Ayckbourn plays it is funny, fast, and entertaining,
The six characters are well-observed. You and I both know people just like them. Perhaps this is the secret of Ayckbourn's success.
There is little to criticise in the acting. Stanley Page, as the determinedly-cheerful husband of a prissy, self-centred wife, was excellent. Alex Marshall, the wife in question, was just like hundreds of women who use child-bearing as a passport to conspicuous suffering. Christopher Godwin, as the pathetically philandering husband, and Janet Dale, his hard-as-nails, careerist wife, both turned in faultless performances.
Ronald Herdman, as the grotesque but appealing twit, Tom, got more laughs, and perhaps more sympathy, than anybody else in the cast. He deserved it. But my favourite was Rosalind Adams, whose portrayal of the drab unmarried sister who everybody uses, was intensely skilled.
The only flaw in the play itself seemed to me to be the ending, of which, though it was predictable, somehow clashed with the mood of the rest of the evening. I felt Ayckbourn was digging a little too deep into his characters. A joke's a joke, and, for the audiences the Library Theatre attracts, shouldn't be taken too far. Sad though it may be to admit it, they don't want to be made to think.
By the way, two instances of audience reaction earned my intense gratitude. One was the fact that, when poor, goaded Tom finally gave his tormentor a clout, the audience cheered. The other was the gasp which greeted one of the female character's use of a very mild obscenity."
(Scarborough Evening News, 23 June 1973)

Sustained Effort (by John Draper)
"Having belatedly, seen number two in the Alan Ayckbourn trilogy at the Library Theatre, I can report that I found
Make Yourself At Home as solidly funny as the other two, All three can be recommended to anybody who has not yet made the trip to the theatre.
Much of the credit for this must go to the cast, whose energy and skill is maintained throughout all three plays. That sort of sustained effort is very hard to do, and it was interesting to see how the characters became more credible and rounded with each production.
Mr. Ayckbourn was splendidly consistent, too. For example, Alex Marshall's horrible wife and mother, revealed as a howling bitch in
Fancy Meeting You is confirmed by the end of Round And Round The Garden as a one hundred per cent, gilt-edged, copper-bottomed, dyed-in-the-wool super-bitch of the sort which has sorely tried the lives of everybody around her; Ronald Herdman's sluggish witted man becomes so exasperating one wonders how he has managed to escape being strangled before now; Rosalind Adams's put-upon drudge becomes the object of deep compassion. Perhaps the greatest achievement is that the trilogy as a whole emerges as far more impressive than the sum of its parts."
(Scarborough Evening News, 4 August 1973)

Remarkable Ayckbourn Trilogy
"Fears that Alan Ayckbourn might find it impossible to maintain the hilarious standards set by the first two plays of his summer trilogy were allayed last night at the Library Theatre.
Round And Round The Garden is, in many ways, even funnier than its two precursors, though it is in other ways more thought-provoking.
And though the play has the occasional slow moment - never apparent in the previous two - and a thinnish ending, it marks a remarkable achievement on the part of Mr. Ayckbourn. For without apparent effort, or any "stretching" of material, he has made three self-contained plays out of one situation featuring the same six players in the same house on the same weekend.
The situation has been explained before - the family has gathered because young sister Annie, the drudge who looks after ailing mother, plans a week-end away with philanderer Norman.
Fancy Meeting You and Make Yourself At Home displayed the situation as seen in the dining-room and the living-room. Last night's play is set, of course, in the garden - and a wonderful set it is, executed by David Price.
The performances, too, have been commented upon previously - but, again, the honours must go to Chris Godwin as that lovely character Norman, and to Ronnie Herdman, as Tom, the vacillating vet.
Now that all three plays have had their premieres they will, from Thursday, run in sequence on successive nights until the end of the month. Don't miss them.
Last year the Sunday Times said of Mr. Ayckbourn that there was probably not another playwright in the country who had his new works premiered on a shoestring in a room above a resort's public library.
Quaint, yes, but it has stopped being funny now. Surely the Library Theatre has proved itself. Surely Scarborough must soon wake up to the fact that is has as a gift what virtually amounts to a resident genius.
It is a gift which could, with the right treatment, give Scarborough that sought-for out-of-season attraction.
Instead, it looks as though the theatre in the round may be without even its present inadequate home next year, while other, more enlightened resorts wait to welcome it with open arms."
(Scarborough Evening News, 10 July 1973)

All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.