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May 2004
Round & Round the Garden
Review by Clive Fuller, site user

Feet (image from Birmingham Rep)
Feet on sheepskin rug

Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company's production of 'Round and Round the Garden - The Norman Conquests' by Alan Ayckbourn.

Reviewed by Cliver Fuller

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FACTS

Round and Round the Garden - The Norman Conquests

Alan Ayckbourn (Author)
Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company (Producer)
Jonathan Church (Director)
Simon Higlett (Design)

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It takes an artistic director with great foresight to judge the audience reaction to one play but three is another thing altogether.

The Rep has Jonathan Church at the helm and his choice of material has filled the auditorium frequently with 'house full' signs being seen regularly.

Here he can be found directing the trilogy. These Ayckbourn plays come from an altogether more relaxing time when certainly mobile telephones, texting and even computers were not found everywhere let alone in the home. The people are believable but kindly and never vulgar.

For those who lived through the 1970s it is a little like a trip down memory lane and certainly when I first saw this play it was ground breaking stuff. Yes, I saw them all in Scarborough in the early 1970s so that gives away my age! There was a buzz in the audience then and it is still there today.

Alan Ayckbourn is famous for experimenting with the theatrical form but the concept of three plays covering a disastrous family weekend and viewed from the eyes of the different and quite diverse characters was the biggest project he had ever undertaken, the idea being formed back in 1971. It took until 1973 for the self-contained plays to be presented as The Norman Conquests.

'Round and Round the Garden' features: Sarah and Reg arriving to relieve housebound Annie for the week. Sarah, who is hysterically obsessive, is horrified to discover that Annie plans to spend her weekend away with Norman in of all places East Grinstead, well it was the summer and Hastings was full!

Norman is the assistant librarian husband of Sarah's sister, who believes he is away at a conference. Sarah tries to send Norman home and turn Annie towards Tom - the local dim vet - with hilarious consequences. You may recall a highly successful television adaptation featuring Tom Conti, Richard Briers, Penelope Keith and Penelope Wilton but it is sometime since all three plays were produced in such cracking form as this.

Footsie under table (image: Birmingham Rep)
Footsie under a table

Set designer Simon Higlett has produced a superb set continuing in the tradition of outstanding design at The Rep. I doubt you will ever see better than his design and sets.

The actors, Michael Begley as Norman the love of all women, Tony Boncza as the potty vet, Caroline Faber as Annie, Leda Hodgson as Sarah, Paul Raffield as estate agent Reg and Katherine Rogers as business woman Ruth are all faultless.

The whole production was excellent and left me wondering if I could really remember after all these years just how the other two plays worked out. If you'd like to find out, visit the Rep and enjoy The Norman Conquests as much as we did today. There is no doubting this is first class comedy.

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