Above: Matilda Ridgway, Brian Meegan, Danielle Carter and Sam O’Sullivan. Below right: Yolin Ozucelik and Brian Meegan. Bottom right: Rachel Gordon. Photos by Prudence Upton.
The Norman Conquests: Table Manners
By Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Mark Kilmurry
An Ensemble Theatre Production
78 McDougall Street
Season: 19 October 2018 – 12 January 2019, Bookings: (02) 9929 0644 or https://boxoffice.ensemble.com.au
If only dining tables could talk. Imagine all the secrets they could reveal from a lifetime of
hosting family gatherings! In the aptly titled Table Manners, playwright Alan Ayckbourn uses one set over four scenes and two acts to spin an enthralling domestic yarn involving six characters. Director Mark Kilmurry has the ‘dining table’ centre stage to absorb and retell conversations that others should perhaps not hear.
Table Manners is one of three plays that make up The Norman Conquests and deal with issues of repressed sexual desire, marital infidelity, loneliness, frustration and the search for happiness. These issues are humourously addressed within a family environment and so, we the audience, can readily identify each of the characters within our own lives.
The story is set in a cottage somewhere in the English countryside. It’s peaceful, serene, and safe. Annie lives in the house to care for her aged invalid mother. We get the impression that she feels her life is dull, boring and slipping away rapidly. She yearns for love and intimacy but her best friend, Tom the Vet, is shy and awkward when it comes to matters concerning close relationships. He is preoccupied with the care of animals; however, we discover later that he has skills as a boxer which came in handy during the story.
Annie has organised her brother Reg and wife Sarah to visit for the weekend, so she can get away to downmarket East Grinstead to relax briefly. They arrive to find Annie preparing the table for dinner. While Reg is outside, Sarah grills Annie about her weekend away, thinking it is a “dirty” weekend opportunity for Annie and Tom. However, this is not the case. Annie finally reveals the plan is to spend the weekend with Norman, the husband of her sister Ruth.
Plans for her weekend ‘escape’ rapidly disintegrate and we are treated to some very funny scenes around the dinner table. Everybody’s marriage, feelings, and dislikes are opened. And the main antagonist is Norman, who manages to get everybody offside with his loud, garrulous, and drunken behaviour.
This is a good, tight play with a fast-paced story and believable characters.
You can’t help feeling sorry for Annie. Matilda Ridgway brings her life and sympathetically portrays a lonely, quiet woman who dresses plainly. Matilda captures her introverted side well.
Danielle Carter superbly plays the role of Sarah. In stark contrast to Annie, she is confident, self-assured, and very class-conscious. When discussing Tom with Annie she says, “It must be fascinating being a Vet. It’s a pity in a way that he’s not a proper doctor”.
Tom the Vet is portrayed perfectly by Sam O’Sullivan. He is everything righteous, very diplomatic, and polite. He could be a good match for Annie. If only he could try and get to first base with her, she’d be delighted.
Reg is the smart-alec real estate agent who has a cutting line in every conversation. He is likable but irritates his wife Sarah with his annoying habits. Very well played by Brian Meegan.
Rachel Gordon is ideal in the role of Ruth. She is a busy, working woman who is well aware of her husbands’ limitations and indiscretions. She just gets on with things. When chatting to Norman she says, “I love you too Norman but just leave me alone”.
And then there is Norman, ably played by Yolin Ozucelik. He captures the annoying nature of Norman very well. He can’t control his high libido and feels he can offer “much happiness” to all women. But really, he is just a legend in his own mind.
Recognition must go to the crew, especially Set and Costume Designer Hugh O’Connor. His costumes matched the personalities of each character perfectly, especially the oversized suit adorned with war medals of Ruth’s deceased father that Norman managed to find in a cupboard.
I recommend catching this production if you can. Table Manners delivers on laughs, cast performances, and entertainment. Written in the early 1970’s, its gender depictions are a bit stereotyped but still hold true today. And the dining table on the big floor rug deserves its place centre-stage.