(Dan Kois’s review appeared in New York Magazine April 23, 2009.)
Diary of a Marathon
On seeing uproarious three-part farce The Norman Conquests in one M&M-fueled day.
11:25 a.m. It’s the most beautiful day of the spring, and I’m descending into the dark Circle in the Square Theatre for a marathon viewing of The Norman Conquests, Matthew Warchus’s revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s 1973 comic trilogy. On Saturdays throughout the run, all three shows of the trilogy are being performed for audiences who wish to spend six and a half hours in the company of neurotic middle-aged Brits in heat.
11:40 a.m. “It’s what we all need now and then: a nice dirty weekend somewhere,” says busybody Sarah (Amanda Root) to her sister-in-law Annie (Jessica Hynes), at the beginning of the first play, Table Manners. All three shows in The Norman Conquests tell the story of Annie’s dirty weekend gone wrong, each from a different area of the shabby English country house where she lives. Sarah and her husband, Reg (Paul Ritter), have come to look after things while Annie’s away. But when Sarah learns that Annie’s traveling partner is not Tom (Ben Miles), the quiet local vet who’s been failing to court Annie for years, but Norman (Stephen Mangan), the maddening husband of Annie and Reg’s sister Ruth (Amelia Bullmore), she goes thoroughly off the rails. As Root’s eyes bug out beneath her absurdly coiffed hair, I already feel confident that no one in The Norman Conquests will be funnier than she.
11:55 a.m. Props to Matthew Warchus, who’s got his actors playing everything with absolute conviction and commitment—whether it’s an uncomfortably realistic fight between Sarah and Reg or comically spluttering reactions to homemade dandelion wine.
12:10 p.m. Norman, shaggy and charismatic, “a gigolo trapped in a haystack,” makes his first appearance. The overarching plot of The Norman Conquests is, of course, Norman’s conquests—the game attempts of a simple assistant librarian to brighten the lives of the women of his family with a bit of romance. Mangan is a shambling Lothario in the role—clearly the funniest performer in the play . . .