January 13, 1976: Ayckbourn, The Norman Conquests
I saw the middle play, Living Together, of Alan Ayckbourn’s interlocking trilogy The Norman Conquests. Each scene of the play comes after a previous scene in the dining room, dramatized in the play called Table Manners, and is followed by a corresponding scene in the garden in Round and Round the Garden. For repeat audiences it is undoubtedly an experience of cleverness to see how the plays interlock. For a single playgoer the experience has to be self-sustaining.
It is largely that, thanks to Ayckbourn’s skill dramatizing the homegrown or mildly crucial affairs of a group of six persons, three male, three female, all related in one way or another. To be precise, the author’s talent seems to be to find comedy of character in commonplace situations familiar to middle-class audiences, but also to find the harsh edge of that comedy that often comes out as almost raw nastiness. The acting is very good, although at times there are gags reminiscent of TV situation comedy, on about the level of the Bob Newhart show. I don’t on the whole feel impelled to go back for the other two plays.