Landmarks: The Norman Conquests
In a Night Waves Landmark programme, Matthew Sweet marks Alan Ayckbourn's 70th birthday with an exploration of his most famous work, the 1974 trilogy The Norman Conquests.
A huge theatrical hit when they were first performed in the early 1970s, each of three plays comprising the Norman Conquests are set in a different rooms of a suburban house over one weekend, and chart the comic relationships between six characters.
The original West End production featured a celebrated cast which included Michael Gambon, Penelope Keith, Felicity Kendall, and Tom Courtenay as the bearded and feckless Norman.
However, successful as Ayckbourn's plays have always been with audiences, there has been a perception from some in the theatrical critical establishment that this was no more than comfortable entertainment. He was not considered worthy of the respect given to a Pinter, Osborne or Hare.
When Kevin Spacey decided to stage The Norman Conquests in 2008 at The Old Vic, it was seen as a risky decision - what amused an audience back in the early 1970s was thought unlikely to hit home today. But the the production was successful with audiences and critics alike. Ayckbourn was reassessed, found to have a core of darkness beneath the comedy and was pronounced to be the 'Chekhov of the Suburbs'.
Matthew and guests examine Ayckbourn's craft, asking: 'What is his critical reputation?'.