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Theatre Review (San Diego): The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn at Old Town Theatre

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Alan Ayckbourn is one of England’s most produced playwrights. He competes in this country with Neil Simon as being the funniest living playwright. Ayckbourn, and Simon for that matter, are having a resurgence of interest in their plays. One of Ayckbourn’s most famous is the trilogy The Norman Conquests. He composed it over several days of continuous writing in the spring of 1973. They involve three separate plays: Table Manners, Living Together, and Round and Round The Garden. The action takes place over the course of a couple days in a single house, but each play takes place in a different part of the house.

The actions of each play are contemporaneous and can be viewed as one long play or as three separate, but complete plays in any order. There are only six characters, namely the randy Norman, his business-absorbed wife Ruth, Ruth’s brother, the loose and game-lover Reg and his exacting wife Sarah, Ruth’s sister Annie, and Annie’s next door neighbor, the clueless Tom. The plot revolves around Norman’s seduction of Annie (who loves the clueless Tom), his on-going affair with Sarah, and his on and off seduction of his wife Ruth. The play examines the intricate relationships between the characters and is hilarious as well as touching. It asks the questions, “Will Norman succeed in his conquests?” and “Will Annie ever find love?” The play is a brilliant exercise in interwoven plot lines and is now considered a modern classic.

I have seen parts or this entire trilogy several times, but none compares or even comes close to the productions at the Cygnet Theatre in Old Town in San Diego. This eight-year old theatre has put on a simply splendid rendition of these plays. The cast includes Danny Campbell as Tom, Sandy Campbell as Sarah, Ron Choularton as Reg, a brilliant Jo Anne Glover as the hapless Annie, Frances Anita Rivera, and the revelatory Albert Dayan’s Norman. Dayan’s Norman is a complex yet faceted characterization. He is totally charming, funny, loveable, and a wonderful actor. Artistic Director and Co-Founder of the Cygnet Theatre Sean Murray and Resident Artist Francis Gercke share the directorial honors.

Sean Fanning, also a Resident Artist, has designed a series of marvelous sets based on a stationary background of artfully arranged doors, fences, windows, and siding, against which he places the setting of the particular play, a table for Table Manners, a living room for Living Together, and a garden for Round and Round The Garden. The sets are complimented by the lighting design by Michelle Caron, the costume designs of Jeanne Reith, and the sound design of George Ye.

I had originally intended to see only one of the plays but ended up going back two more times, including separate trips from Los Angeles, to see the rest of the plays. All this takes place in the lovely small but comfortable theatre in Old Town San Diego.The Norman Conquests is a triumph that can compete with anything coming from La Jolla and The Old Globe. This is one of the best theatrical experiences I have had in Southern California. Bravo!! The Norman Conquests reigns supreme at Old Town Theatre until Nov 7th.


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About Robert Machray