Monday, June 8, 2009

THE NORMAN CONQUESTS all!


If you saw the Tony Awards on Sunday, you may have seen the cast of The Norman Conquests on the stage as they won Best Revival of a Play.

I had the pleasure of seeing one of the plays in the trilogy, Round and Round the Garden last week. The other two plays are Table Manners and Living Together. The plays can be seen separately, they run on consecutive nights, or you can see them all on Saturday.

The genius of the plays is that as the characters exit one play, they enter into the next. So if Norman leaves the garden, he enters into the living room and you see what happens there in the next play, Living Together . It may sound confusing, but it is not. Only seeing one does not confuse the theatergoer at all.

The play works not only because the genius of playwright Alan Ayckbourn, but thanks to an amazing cast. Norman, played brilliantly by Stephen Mangan, is an assistant librarian married to one sister, Ruth, but pursuing an affair with her sister, Annie. Annie and Ruth's brother, Reg, and his uptight wife Sarah, have reluctantly come home to care for their ailing mother while Annie goes away for a secret weekend rendezvous with Norman. Meanwhile, Annie is being pursued, somewhat slowly, by veterinarian Tom.

Mangan plays Norman like a scruffy little puppy. He's adorable, but has little impulse control. He lives in the here and now, and loves to shake things up. His pursuit of Annie, and then the rigid Sarah, is delightful. You want to grab a rolled up newspaper, pop him on the nose and say, "Bad boy!" Then he bats his puppy dog eyes at you, and you forgive him.

Mangan was nominated for a Tony Award, as was Paul Ritter, who plays brother Reg. He too plays his role of the boring, slightly annoying and clueless man to perfection. Ben Miles is Tom the vet who just can't get up the courage to tell Annie how he feels, then misunderstands Ruth's attempt to explain the situation swirling around them.

Jessica Hynes was also nominated for a Tony for her as the long suffering, lonely Annie. Annie is longing for attention that Norman is willing to give her, but struggling with her feelings for Tom. Amanda Root, also nominated for a Tony, plays the uptight Sarah who knows everything going on, but still is attracted to the carefree Norman. Amelia Bullmore, as Norman's wife Ruth, is genius in her scene with Tom as she tries to explain what is happening with Annie and Norman.

The cast won a special ensemble award from The Drama Desk Awards, and they are hands down the best cast on Broadway right now. They work together as a well-oiled comedy machine. The show is full of belly laughs that come fast and furious. It's a terrific show to see if you need a laugh, and I'm looking forward to seeing the other two plays in the trilogy. I keep wondering what the heck happened when they left the garden!

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