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Audio Drama Review


The Norman Conquests


Written by: Alan Ayckbourn
Starring: Robin Herford, Tessa Peake-Jones, Diane Bull, Jon Strickland, Simon Jones and Elizabeth Rider
BBC Audio
RRP: £17.99
ISBN: 978 1 408 42692 0
Available 04 March 2010

When the deviously amorous Norman plans a clandestine weekend away with his sister-in-law, he has some fun and games in mind. But not quite the fun and games that he gets... Ayckbourn's trilogy - "Table Manners", "Living Together" and "Round and Round the Garden" - has been hailed as a mould-breaking masterpiece. All three plays take place concurrently - so an exit in one becomes an entrance in another - and can be played in any order. The story of the same dreadful weekend is illuminated from three different vantage points: the dining room, the sitting room and the garden...

Alan Ayckbourn's The Norman Conquests was written in 1973 and has been a mainstay of British theatre ever since. It is a trilogy of connected plays, at times wildly comic, and at times poignant in their portrayals of the relationships between six more or less unhappy characters. Each of the plays depicts the same six characters over the same weekend in a different part of a house. 'Table Manners' is set in the dining room, 'Living Together' in the living room, and 'Round and Round the Garden' in the garden.

This adaptation for Radio was originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 between August and September 1990.

The order the BBC chose to run these plays is about the only way I can see them actually working properly - but I suppose if they were presented in any other way I'd probably say that too was the best order. For me, I loved the way that Norman's other flirtation is kept hidden until late in the day in the first play - also this is the only one where his wife is properly introduced. In the others, she just sort of turns up (although you do understand why).

'Round the Garden' also continues the story on a little bit further from the previous two plays, making it a fitting end to the trilogy.

As with all of Alan Ayckbourn's plays, the characters are true to life - we'll all be able to recognise the six players as manifestations of characters we know in real life - and this helps to bring the audience onboard quite quickly.

The comedy comes from the tragedy and mild farce that surrounds an unplanned family get together - with Norman being the cause of just about everyone's misery. This is certainly worth investing your time in.


Darren Rea

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