In which case, this advice is not for you. Do not read on. For those who have seen none of the plays but may be wishing to do-so, it is hoped that the following notes may prove useful. This will give you a wrong time sequence and will only confuse you when you come to see, say, Living Together which, incidentally, you are strongly advised not to see second. Ideally, Round And Round The Garden should not be seen before you have seen Table Manners - but do not, on the other hand, fall into that old trap of seeing Round And Round The Garden after Living Together as this again will confuse the sequences of dramatic events. Do not see Living Together first as this will severely curtail a lot of the pleasure you gain from seeing Table Manners for the first time which latter play, for maximum enjoyment you should try and save till the end.
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Yet for something that is regarded as a milestone in 20th century British theatre, the plays had a surprisingly pedestrian origin. In September , in the aftermath of the success of Absurd Person Singular at the Library Theatre , Scarborough, a reporter for a local newspaper the precise publication being lost to time asked Alan what he planned to write next.
Alan thought nothing more of it until the unidentified newspaper in question ran a story in March , while he was away in London, stating his next project would be a trilogy. A panicked call from the Library Theatre - totally unaware of this development - enquired whether this was true. Behind The Scenes: Sheffield Inspirations Whilst the widely reported story of the newspaper interview leading to The Norman Conquests is true, Alan already had a multi-play idea in his head.
In an interview in , Alan Ayckbourn recalls being asked twice on the same day in if he would write plays for the recently opened Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. In an interview from , the same story is recalled by the director Eric Thompson, who believed that Alan adapted this idea for Scarborough as one of the inspirations for The Norman Conquests.
In a sense, the inspiration for The Norman Conquests was not only the challenge it posed to write and direct a trilogy successfully, but also the challenge to write a trilogy for a summer seaside audience which would satisfy anyone whether they came to see one, two or three plays, without compromising the plays.
As a result, the trilogy nature of the plays was not emphasised nor that ultimate satisfaction required seeing all three productions. This is most obvious in the fact the trilogy did not have an over-arching name for the original production. The plays were written simultaneously over a week in May with Alan writing each play cross-wise i. Despite this method of working, Alan firmly believes each play has its own very distinct character: Table Manners is the funniest; Round And Round The Garden the more casual and conventional; Living Together a slower piece with a deliberate slackening of the pace.
As to why Norman appears so late in Table Manners the first of the plays to be rehearsed , this is simply because the actor playing Norman, Christopher Godwin, was unavailable for the first week of rehearsals and the script was written to accommodate this.
This was because Table Manners was the first play to go into rehearsals and Alan knew Christopher would not be available for part of the first week of rehearsals. Hence the huge build-up to Norman! The local press reported the plays were selling out at every performance and The Stage announced the play had broken every box office record at the Library Theatre. The plays are also fondly recalled at the theatre for the extraordinary occasion when a member of the audience laughed so hard she spat her false teeth out, which her husband came to recover from the box office the next day!
Although the plays were a huge success in Scarborough, a transfer to the West End was by no means inevitable nor - extraordinary as it seems now - was any sort of future guaranteed for the plays. Alan was of the opinion that it was probably not viable to take a trilogy to London or anywhere else! Jubilation quickly turned to disappointment when several weeks later, he withdrew the offer having had second thoughts and deemed it too much of a financial risk. Obviously disappointed, Alan put the trilogy in a drawer and began work on his next play Absent Friends.
At which point, it should be stressed Alan genuinely believed there was probably no future for the plays and they were unlikely to ever be picked up again. Eric asked whether Alan had anything for him to read, so Alan sent him a bit of light reading in the form of The Norman Conquests. Eric read them and was very enthusiastic; believing Greenwich Theatre might be a viable venue and suggesting Tom Courtenay - who had starred in Time And Time Again - might be interested in the trilogy.
His suggestion the trilogy be mounted at a fringe venue offered less financial risk as well as a testing ground, where if the plays were demonstrated to be both viable and successful, it would be easier to sell a West End transfer. To expedite the prolonged rehearsal and help with the casting, Peggy meanwhile contacted Michael Codron - who was aware of the Greenwich plans. A deal was struck that Codron would underwrite the cost of rehearsals in return for first refusal on any West End transfer.
We are playing to packed houses and the advance bookings are excellent. Many people have booked for the three plays at the one time. As for the plays themselves, there was little alteration to the texts between Scarborough and London, but there were several other notable changes.
The trilogy now became known as The Norman Conquests as a means of emphasising to the audience they should see all three plays - although in no particular order. The Norman Conquests played at Greenwich from May to June, , and was an incredible and immediate success. Such was the overwhelming response to the trilogy that it was reported at the time there was a rush from West End producers to take on the plays with one article citing the producer Michael Codron had to apparently pay a vastly inflated price to secure the rights as a result of this.
This was journalistic invention, though, as Codron had been a silent partner throughout the Greenwich experience. His involvement had been kept quiet as it was felt if the management of Greenwich Theatre realised he had helped fund the trilogy - implying the transfer to the West End was practically a given - there would be scope for the theatre to make more financial demands.
The Greenwich production also marked a first for the trilogy for on Saturday 29 June , Greenwich Festival Gala Day saw all three parts of the play performed on the same day; this had never been attempted during the world premiere run in Scarborough. It also - intriguingly - broke the established performance pattern which has generally been used for trilogy day.
Living Together rather than Table Manners was performed first at 11am, followed by Table Manners at 3. Michael Codron took the trilogy into the West End with virtually the same cast - Bridget Turner taking over from the unavailable Penelope Wilton - and it opened at the Globe Theatre on 1 August, The plays would run until 13 March The long-running success included a transfer from the Globe Theatre to the Apollo Theatre in December and when the play was recast in , it included Julia McKenzie in her first Ayckbourn role.
Alan would later cite her performance as one of the reasons why he felt she was capable of taking on the demands of the role of Susan in the West End production of Woman In Mind. Behind The Scenes: Marathon Man The search for a suitable American cast for the Broadway transfer of the trilogy did see one of the more unusual suggestions for an Ayckbourn play when the acclaimed actor Dustin Hoffman showed interest. He visited London to see the trilogy and in an interview said he was actively considering the role of Norman.
Unfortunately this did not come to pass and the thought of Dustin Hoffman as Norman can only be left to the imagination.
The rights to the plays were bought by Philip Langer who initially suggested the London cast transfer to Broadway, but this foundered when Tom Courtenay was not prepared to commit for more than a 12 week season, which financially was not attractive to the American producers.
Eric Thompson, who had directed the American production of Absurd Person Singular to great acclaim, returned to direct the American production which began life with a short run in Los Angeles before transferring to New York.
The trilogy was well received but did not achieve the same level of success as Absurd Person Singular. Prior to , his plays had been published by Samuel French as play texts aimed predominantly at the amateur performance market.
No-one had shown interest publishing them for a wider audience despite prior attempts to interest a major publisher in the plays. The success of the plays also attracted interest from film and television companies, all keen to tackle the trilogy in some form or to spin it off in other directions. The BBC initially suggested making both an adaptation of the plays and a spin-off television series and other producers followed suit; although practically every suggestion was for a spin-off from the plays in the form of a one-off special or a half-hour television series.
Concurrent to this, several film companies were suggesting making a movie of the trilogy, although the idea of just one film encompassing all three plays did not appeal to Alan. Throughout the negotiations, Alan and Peggy fought hard for the plays to be presented at their original lengths rather than cut down to fit a specific slot for television; a point which Alan has always felt strongly about when considering the television, film and radio adaptations of his work.
Neither Alan nor his agent were aware of this until they saw a newspaper review for the film buffs out there, Table Manners was released on video in the UK at the same time as Star Wars. Thames Television had released the video despite not having contractual rights to do so in the UK; as a result a limited two year video release contract was arranged for the trilogy, however it is not apparent whether all three films were ever actually released on video.
It would be 25 years before they were commercially released as a trilogy in the UK. Thames Television announced on 11 January, , it was producing a trilogy of two-hour films based on the plays starring Tom Conti as Norman. The television adaptation of the entire trilogy was not released in the UK until with a DVD release later re-issued in ; it had been available on video in North America since In April , the British Film Institute screened the trilogy in a single day as part of a festival celebrating the work of the television producer Verity Lambert.
Following the conclusion of its successful London run in , there was immense interest in the future of the trilogy with one of the first suggestions being a national tour originating with the Cambridge Theatre Company.
Alan, however, was keen that the plays be released to repertory theatres as soon as possible where he saw a more natural home for them. No-one could actually see how a tour of The Norman Conquests would work anyway - significantly Michael Codron had already dismissed the idea unless each theatre on the tour committed to at least three-week long visits.
With considerable demand from repertory theatres across the country, the trilogy was released for production in and the first regional production was staged by the recently opened Theatre Clywd, Mold, on 9 August It was estimated that in , , people saw the trilogy on stage in the UK alone. Although the television adaptation of the trilogy had been a huge hit, a more satisfying adaptation was created by the BBC for radio in Directed and adapted by Gordon House, the three part adaptation featured a strong cast, many of whom had previously worked extensively with Alan Ayckbourn.
Robin Herford, Diane Bull, Jon Strickland and Tessa Peake-Jones featured in what was a very popular adaptation of the trilogy which was released commercially in on cassette and is frequently repeated on BBC Radio to this day.
This named the trilogy as one of the Plays Of The Century, where it represented Plans to revive The Norman Conquests in London had long been rumoured with the National Theatre at one point apparently considering a revival to mark the 20th anniversary of the trilogy in Although nothing came of this, in Kevin Spacey - Artistic Director of the Old Vic - made a surprise announcement that The Norman Conquests would be revived in London for the first time since with the acclaimed and award-winning Matthew Warchus directing.
The production company Tiger Aspect approached the Old Vic about filming the trilogy for television, who agreed to the proposal. Tiger Aspect then approached the BBC about broadcasting the trilogy. The BBC rebuffed them and showed no interest in televising the award-winning production. The production was confirmed in May with the unexpected news that the interior of the Old Vic would be adapted so The Norman Conquests could be performed in the round as originally produced and written by Alan Ayckbourn, marking the first time a major London production of an Ayckbourn play was performed in the round.
Despite the popularity of the plays, it was acknowledged that staging a trilogy in the West End - particularly given the country was in the early stages of recession - was nothing but a considerable risk. The reviews were uniformly ecstatic with all aspects of the production receiving praise including the risky decision to convert the Old Vic auditorium into the round.
The critical notices and word of mouth meant the Old Vic soon had a huge success on its hands. The Times later named the production as one of the theatrical events of the decade. Almost immediately after the run ended, there were rumours The Norman Conquests would transfer to New York; although extended negotiations to transfer the original cast and to keep it in the round meant the trilogy did not reach New York until April for a limited run.
The producer Sonia Friedman was responsible for the transfer to the Circle In The Square, where the trilogy was again performed in the round. Where The Norman Conquests did succeed, above and beyond any expectation, was in recognition of the production and the company. The cast, both singularly and as a company also received a number of awards. The crowning moment came on 7 June when the trilogy received a prestigious Tony award for Best Revival.
This was the first time an Ayckbourn play had won a Tony and it seems apt that his writing should be recognised on Broadway with a Tony for his most famous work in the 50th anniversary year of his playwriting career. Article by Simon Murgatroyd.
Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder. Portrait of Alan Ayckbourn by Andrew Higgins. Contact Me.
Table Manners review: Ayckbourn's benevolence makes us like his comic characters
Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden - to give them the titles by which they are now known - show us three dove-tailed accounts of events at a country house over one weekend; one shows us what happens in the dining-room, the next in the sitting-room and the third in the garden. The house belongs to an unseen but tyrannical invalid woman whose unattached daughter, Annie, cares for her. Tom thinks he is wise in the ways of the world and gives good advice. Annie wants to be swept off her feet by someone and Sarah is badly in need of attention and understanding of some kind.
The Norman Conquests (1973)
Yet for something that is regarded as a milestone in 20th century British theatre, the plays had a surprisingly pedestrian origin. In September , in the aftermath of the success of Absurd Person Singular at the Library Theatre , Scarborough, a reporter for a local newspaper the precise publication being lost to time asked Alan what he planned to write next. Alan thought nothing more of it until the unidentified newspaper in question ran a story in March , while he was away in London, stating his next project would be a trilogy. A panicked call from the Library Theatre - totally unaware of this development - enquired whether this was true. Behind The Scenes: Sheffield Inspirations Whilst the widely reported story of the newspaper interview leading to The Norman Conquests is true, Alan already had a multi-play idea in his head. In an interview in , Alan Ayckbourn recalls being asked twice on the same day in if he would write plays for the recently opened Crucible Theatre in Sheffield.
TABLE MANNERS by Alan Ayckbourn