This play forms part of an Ayckbourn trilogy , the Norman Conquests, written in 1973. There are only six parts, and each play depicts the same six characters, over the same weekend, in a different part of a house. “Table Manners” is set in the dining room, “Living Together” in the living room, and “Round and Round the Garden”, unsurprisingly, unfolds in the garden. Each is self-contained, and may be watched in any order, some of the scenes overlap, and on several occasions a character’s exit from one play corresponds with an entrance in another, although they were not written to be performed simultaneously.
“Round and Round the Garden” is the more frequently performed of the trilogy requiring only one simple exterior set. Brighton based Talking Scarlet Theatre company were formed in 2001 . Artistic Director Patric Kearns has a formidable track record of diverse productions to his credit, although Chris Johnson directs a light , slight, script, littered with strong one-liners.
The cast is strong. Tom (Ben Roddy) is a painfully socially awkward vet with a love interest in Annie (Jo Castleton) which he struggles to advance. The part of Annie has previously been played by Felicity Kendall and Castleton neatly portrays a warm at heart, attractive but no sex siren, frustrated girlfriend, who succumbs to the more direct, but equally inept, amorous advances of Norman ( Philip Stewart) who is really under the thumb of his wife Ruth (Louise Faulkner). Faulkner’s taciturn world weariness is a delight, as is her struggle with opening a deck chair. But it is Kevin Pallister who steals the show with an energetic portrayal of wise cracking Reg, ably assisted by Natasha Gray, sporting height of fashion green eye shadow, as his wife Sarah.
The Aykbourn aficionados in the audience loved it, with superlatives being bandied around amongst their number at both the interval, and full time. Enthusiastically acted, physical and verbal badinage was expertly delivered in a faultless recreation of this 1970’s piece. It is of its time. Sexual paranoia is all pervading as the free love mantra and optimism of the sixties gave way to economic uncertainty and sexual uncertainty. “Romance has been destroyed by cynics and liberationists,” cries one line.
I could not help but notice the age of the audience which was predominantly firmly sixty plus with very few young faces. Whist a fine period piece, whether the Norman Conquests will outlive its contemporary audience is another matter. There was gentle humour as the question of whether an unfaithful liaison required new pyjamas as there was no reason for the pyjamas to be unfaithful too was debated , but Vet Tom’s lament for the simple world of animal passion where the beasts were either on or off heat felt discordant.
Ayckbourn’s credentials as a playwright are beyond question, but this particular piece is now showing its age.
A Seventies soundtrack interspersed the three act performance which was deservedly warmly received by an appreciative audience. Round and Round the Garden runs till Wednesday 10th February then continues on national tour.
This review first appeared in Behind the Arras, abridged, where a comprehensive collection of reviews from the best of Midlands Theatre, from a range of reviewers, is available.