Throwback Blog: The Norman Conquests, A NYC/Broadway #Throwback Blog

There were three Norman Conquests posts I published in Facebook Notes.  I have been in the process of moving and combining old blogs into “throwbacks” to post here so I can have all of my blogs in one place.  I know, I know…control freak.  I also hate losing things or forgetting where I posted something.  Attending plays while living in NY was one of the greatest things for me.  It was really a dream come true.  That I worked for a number of Broadway peeps helped that adventure along quite nicely.  I miss the theater terribly.

(the posts below are in the order of newest to oldest, they are backwards – the plays interact in a way that you could watch them in any order)

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Norman Conquests, Living Together

This blog was originally posted in Facebook notes on May 2, 2009

The Norman Conquests

A trio of comedies set over one weekend at a home in the English countryside. Each play takes place in a different locations around the house: the dining room in Table Manners, the living room in Living Together, and the garden in Round and Round the Garden. The ingenious result is that as plots unfold, something seemingly incidental in one play takes on a hysterical new context in the next. Living Together: the events of the weekend as seen from the sitting room. In which Reg is driven mad by Tom…Tom tells Annie a thing or two…Annie nearly comes to blows with Sarah…Sarah sees a different side of Norman…Norman sorts things out with Ruth…Ruth discovers the charms of a fireside rug…and in which nobody enjoys playing board games.

It was such an utter joy to watch the final installment of The Norman Conquests, Living Together.  I am in awe of these amazing actors who are basically putting on three separate plays at the same time.  The rehearsal that goes into it must be mind boggling.  And yet they do it and make it seem effortless.  The synergy among these players is a joy to watch.  I cannot go on about it enough.

This trilogy was my first experience of  “in the Round”.  To have a stage that has 360 degree seating would have to be daunting for an actor.  Each of the three performances I attended had audiences with good response.  That is so important for me.  A good responding audience bolsters you and makes you laugh harder, gasp louder or be still as much as possible. For this performance, my daughter Amanda and I sat against the stage (no literally, my toes tapped against the actual stage).  What an amazing experience.  I have only one time before been this close to the actors as they were working (Edward the King when it was a reading piece for GayFest NYC 2007 – Chad Hoeppner came right up to me while delivering his lines and I had to look at my feet because I was blushing).  So, to be there right in the mix with the actors was a little intimidating at times.  But to see their expressions, to smell their perfume, to see the details of their costumes – it added a new level of enjoyment for me.

I know I have said it before, but many kudos to The Old Vic for binging this play across the pond and into our hearts.  I would love to meet  Alan Ayckbourn.  He really was genius in creating this play, the way that they fit together like puzzle pieces and yet you could watch just one and still understand.  I like that his work had me researching his other work and ordering books to read.  I actually walked out of Norman and bought the book at the stand.  I usually never buy theater souvenirs.

I do find it interesting that even though these are three separate plays, the Tony rulings note that it will be considered “one” for purposes of Tony. Read the Playbill article here.

Stephen Mangan, Amanda Root, Paul Ritter and Amelia Bullmore.

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This blog was originally posted in Facebook notes on April 11, 2009

IMDB: Table Manners

Ok, I know this IMDB link is for the 1970s tv version of the show. However, it is the same plot.

Sarah and Reg arrive at mum’s house for the weekend so that invalid mum’s care-giver, Reg’s sister Annie, can get away for the weekend. But Annie ends up staying, their brother-in-law Norman shows up unexpectedly, and not long after, so does Norman’s wife Ruth (Annie and Reg’s sister). Sarah tries her best to organize a family dinner for the five of them plus Tom, a slow-witted neighbor whom everyone expects to propose to Annie. Sarah can’t get much cooperation and doesn’t realize that Annie had planned to sneak off with Norman. Norman is incorrigible, Annie is caught between Tom and a fling, mum is upstairs demanding attention, and there aren’t six proper chairs.“

This is the second installment of the trilogy of plays by Alan Ayckbourn. The great thing about this play is that as you enter into the second installment you realize what is going on and then you realize that as actors were entering and exiting the stage in the previous play, their characters were entering and leaving the next two plays (theoretically not literally, unless of course you go to a marathon day, but not simultaneously…you know what I mean, maybe).

This play was a little more serious. It dealt with the deeper issues that were occurring with the characters. That did not dampen the comedy in the least though. There were great moments of laughter. And I LOVE when the audience “gets it”. To hear an entire audience laugh at a site gag or a line makes my ears tickle. Also, it is nice when the audience applauds the actors as they enter the play. It is a sign of respect that tells the actor we appreciate what they are doing for us. This set of actors have such a great chemistry that it makes the show easy to watch. They work well off of each other, they know what to expect from each other.

We see a little more of Sarah in this play. She developed more for me. I like that. Again, Amanda Root has brought her facial expressions to the stage and sometimes without words was able to create waves of laughter through the audience. We now understand a little more why she is the nervous wreck that she is.

Tom also developed a little more for me as well. Played by Ben Miles, this character is very well portrayed. He is confuse-able. But here we see him stand up more for Annie and also kind of marks his territory, so to speak. The scene with him in the little chair, sitting next to Norman – my only complaint was that I was sitting behind him but would have LOVED to see his expressions.

Annie comes into her own as well. Jessica Hynes has crafted this character and for me Is almost the straight man out of the lot. Though she has great comedic lines through the play for me she is the more serious of all the character, the anchor.

For this play, I could not help but stare at Reg’s butt in his tight pants (that in another play gets squeezed by one drunk Norman). Paul Ritter has a way of quickly working his way through his lines and weaving for us a character who is crisp, quick spoken and funny to watch. He is your guaranteed laugh man.

Amelia Bullmore, who plays Ruth, was a joy to watch as she refused to wear her glasses. She, like the other actors, is a very “physical” actor. I love her fidgets like the way she messes with her hair, her mannerisms, etc.

And then there was Norm. Norm the lover of women. Norm who only wants to make you happy. Of course the “you” depends on who is (or is not) in the room with him. Stephen Mangan is a presence to respect on stage. The delivery of his lines, his sight gags, his interaction with the other actors – all is done with such great ease. Kudos to Mangan for bringing this character to life (and such a vivid life) before us.

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This blog was originally posted in Facebook notes on April 8, 2009

Wikipedia:  The Norman Conquests Round and Round The Garden

The Norman Conquests is a trilogy of plays written in 1973 by Alan Ayckbourn. The small scale of the drama is typical of Ayckbourn. There are only six characters, namely Norman, his wife Ruth, her brother Reg and his wife Sarah, Ruth’s sister Annie, and Tom, Annie’s next-door-neighbour. The plays are at times wildly comic, and at times poignant in their portrayals of the relationships between six more or less unhappy characters.

What an amazing group of actors.  And, what a clever play.  I have never used the word “clever” before when describing a piece I have seen.  But last night that was the word that kept coming to mind when rethinking the show that had just concluded.  Clever. The chemistry among the actors was wonderful.  And for a first night of previews, the show went along without a hitch.

Stephen Mangan, who plays Norman, is a comedic genius.  His timing was dead on, it was not forced.  Such a cad, such a lovable cad.  The scene with Norman and Sarah…oh, you will bust a gut!

Amelia Bullmore, who plays Ruth, is a riot as well.  However, I kept thinking how her mannerisms reminded me of Bill Nighy (not the science guy) who I saw in The Vertical Hour a couple of years ago.  And no, it is not simply because she is Brit.

Paul Ritter, who plays Reg, was amazing in the way he was able to rattle out his quick paced, oftentimes confusing, lines without a pause or stutter.

Jessica Hynes, who plays Annie, plays this character so well.  She is truly believable in this role.  I am hoping to see more of her in the other two plays.

Amanda Root as Sarah, wow.  I would love the opportunity to sit down with Root just to see if she is ANYTHING like the character she portrays.  She has such wonderful facial expressions and body language.  I found that many times I would search her out on stage, more so than the other actors.

And then there was Ben Miles as Tom.  Poor, gullible Tom.  The scene with Tom and Ruth in the garden, oh my.

Another great thing for me was that the theater the show takes place in is Circle In The Square.  I have never before seen a show with a round stage in the middle and seating the entire way around, 360 degrees.  I believe it must be so hard to put together, not only for the cast but the production crew as well (not that it showed in the least).

And, of course there has to be a famous person story that goes along with my play blogs, right?

My friend, Big Sexy, came with me to the show.  We get our tickets and head for our seats.  I trip over the guy in the seats next to us, apologize, nice guy.  I think…is that…?….no!  See, I always think I see famous people and more times than not I am mistaken.  So we take our seats and the show begins.  Big Sexy has a great, deep laugh.  It tickles the ears really.  The combination of his laugh and the laugh of the guy whose toes I stepped on was quite pleasant.  I like a good laugh, one that comes from within and is unrestrained.  So intermission hits and my friend goes to the restroom.  I read my Playbill.  In the Playbill there is a page on The Old Vic theater.  I am reading the article and looking at the picture of their artistic director, Kevin Spacey.  Big Sexy returns from the restroom and we strike up a conversation regarding members of the production team who he knows and how they were commenting about who we were sitting next to.  I look to my left trying to figure out who the old man is and then ask casually who the guy is.  BS then looks to our right and whispers, “Um. Kevin Spacey.”  Go figure! There are times when I really enjoy my life, last night was one of those times….

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