Can’t get enough of that irascible, lovable rascal Norman and his friends from the other side of the pond? Here’s a quick fix. There’s a brand new website where you can indulge in everything Norman. It’s beautifully designed and lots of fun.
If you haven’t seen this incredible cast in one of the funniest shows on Broadway get thee hence immediately.
Here is a reprint of my original review posted on Talk Entertainment.com.
You know immediately that Norman is a handful as he arrives for a weekend in the country in the heat of July looking like some disheveled sheep dog dressed in a London Fog rain coat, woolen hat and carrying a small suitcase espousing loud and clear that nobody loves him.
What we don’t know and are about to find out is that he is one big lecherous lothario who despite being married for five years to myopic, workaholic Ruth, has arranged to slip away with Ruth’s sister Annie (as a vacation from caring for her ill, difficult and never seen mother) who has been seeing Tom, a very shy vet, who seems to care for his cat more than Annie. But Norman also has his eyes on tower of strength Sarah who is married to Reg (brother of Ruth and Annie – who is worried about getting varicose veins and chapped hands). In a wild drunken spree on the lawn where the action of this particular play, one part of a three part trilogy takes place – Norman, in a state of undress, woos Reg. It is mind boggling hysterical.
Playwright Alan Ayckbourn is a master of the intricate plot and complicated character relationships that will have you laughing out loud one minute and then contemplating the seriousness of it all the next. There are three full length interlinked plays – Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden. You can see them in any order. You do not have to see all three but after seeing one you can be sure that you’ll want to see the others. They even have a special deal to accommodate such desires. You will be hooked on these characters and want to know what happens to them over this long, illuminating and catastrophic weekend.
In fact after seeing Garden I made sure to see the other two installments. Is is quite the theatrical event of the season. An incredible feat of theatrical engineering. Not since the original PBS series Brideshead Revisited have I been so intrigued to the point of becoming addicted to a group of English characters.
The production has been brought over from London with its original Old Vic cast and directed with sardonic glee and finesse by Matthew Warchus – in the round – at Circle in the Square Theatre for a limited engagement of 16 weeks. It is not to be missed.
Stephen Mangan is a perfectly outrageous, strangely engaging Norman that will have everyone falling for him despite his full of self pitying behavior. Or is it just an act to gain sympathy in order to seduce all who would be seduced? He’s an incorrigible cad. The catalyst that creates chaos and mayhem wherever he is. Annie (a frumpish but endearing Jessica Hynes) wants to go with him but then changes her mind – waiting for shy Tom (Ben Miles) to propose. When he does it is heartbreakingly hysterical. Fussy Reg (Paul Ritter) and his overbearing wife Sarah (Amanda Root) both being led on by Norman are always at odds with one another. Norman’s stalwart wife Ruth (Amelia Bullmore) knows exactly what Norman is but stays with him nonetheless as she is fond of him. For whatever reasons.
Norman is the primitive, primal man that no matter what he does he gets away with – because he is who he is and we love and hate him for it. What an incredible cast. Combing both physical humor and the underlying pathos for their characters is an incredible feat and experience. Their foibles, their fears, their misunderstandings and their ultimate love for one another bring on the laughs but also give us much to ponder.
They will be receiving a special Outstanding Ensemble Performance Award from the Outer Critics Circle at the annual awards ceremony on May 21st at Sardi’s Restaurant.
I think I will truly miss the lot of them.