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Oct 04

Chichester’s triple threat… Review: The Norman Conquests

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The Norman Conquests
Chichester Festival Theatre
Until 28 October
Box office: 01243 781312
www.cft.org.uk

Photo by Manuel Harlan

Three interconnecting plays, Alan Ayckbourn’s cleverly conceived trilogy gets the red carpet treatment in this excellent revival. While seeing all three provides the complete story, Ayckbourn wrote each play as a standalone, so you don’t lose out if you’re only in town for an evening. But there are several dates when the marathon triple bill can be seen and, if you possibly can, take your seat for the longer haul.

Fabulously staged (a first for Chichester is the addition of on-stage seating, thus creating a full in-the-round experience); the setting is a rambling country house and garden in Sussex where Annie (Jemima Rooper) lives and looks after her ailing mother. Desperate for some much-needed fun (in the absence of local nice-but-dim vet Tom putting the moves on her), she plans a dirty weekend away with her incorrigible brother-in-law, Norman (Trystan Gravelle). The arrival of her brother Reg (Jonathan Broadbent) and sister-in-law Sarah (Sarah Hadland), followed by eldest sister – Norman’s wife – Ruth (Hattie Ladbury) puts paid to Annie’s plans. The collective convergence also unleashes fall-outs, flirtations and some enthusiastic hurling of home truths.

Taking place over the course of a weekend, in the first play, ‘Table Manners,’ the action takes place in the dining room. In ‘Living Together’ we relocate to the sitting room to see what has been going on in the meantime. Finally we catch up on the outdoors action (and oh boy there’s plenty of it!) in the concluding ‘Round and Round the Garden.’

Making her Chichester debut, Blanche McIntyre directs. Written and set in 1973 (superb design and detail from Simon Higlett), while the period is evident, McIntyre injects a sense of newness; vintage Ayckbourn with a contemporary twist.

Without exception the performances are polished. Delivering beautifully played comedy while highlighting the foibles and struggles of their individual characters, there is a pleasing synchronisation between the actors that aids the flow of the entire trilogy.

Very funny, neatly done and with moments of sharp poignancy, this is a hugely satisfying three-course theatrical feast.