Review for THE NOMADS, Nomad Theatre, East Horsley September 2021
Living Together by Alan Ayckbourn
Directed by Danny Sparkes
Living Together is part of Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquest trilogy, which was written in 1973. The three plays cover a traumatic family weekend in the same house, each set in a different area. Living Together is the second of the three plays, and is set in the living room. The Nomads put on a successful production of Round and Round the Garden 2 years or so ago. Here we see the return of the same talented Director, Danny Sparkes, and largely the same cast reprising their previous roles. A comedy, of course, yet many a sad element to the three plays. All human life is here, so to speak: bickering families; the rivalry between siblings and in-laws; the male ego, often very fragile; the fading looks and chances, and fears of approaching middle age; the delights and disappointments of marriage; and the looming presence of the Aged Parent! Simmering tensions abound.
There was an attractive living room set, with a view to the enticingly lit garden outside (scene of Round and Round the Garden). Doors went off to the right, from whence came various disastrous crashings and bangings, and exclamations, as some of the action obviously took place in the dining room, scene of the other play, Table Manners. A satisfying set, I found, with many elements to observe along the way, some of which played a significant role in the proceedings, for example, the chaise longue and the rug, and the ominous box containing Reg’s board game! Costumes were very much ‘of the period’ and were indeed largely the same ones used in Round and Round the Garden. Lighting was very effective throughout.
The central character in all three plays, as the name of the trilogy suggests, is Norman, a librarian and bumbling would-be Lothario, who aims to seduce either, or both, of his sisters-in-law. At the start, one of them, Annie, seems susceptible, though later less so, and the other, Sarah, seems more drawn to his rather feeble efforts later on in the play. Guy Shirley gave a good performance as Norman, though his whiny character will have made many women in the audience more likely to ignore him than succumb to his supposed charms! Norman is the perpetual little boy, which I guess is a typical characteristic of such characters. Persistence he certainly had, and the ability to opportunistically grab every possible chance. Well played, Guy, and very funny, especially in the ‘rug’ scene, where for want of any other success, he finally seduces his own wife on the rug in the living room. The four women in the play are all strong and feisty, though we never meet Mother, who stays up in her room.
Annie is an unmarried daughter who has got stuck at home looking after her. Suzanne Doherty gave a fine, nuanced performance, allowing us to realise the frustrations of her life, bound by the ‘pills’ routine, and lack of much of a life of her own. She resents the more independent existences of her siblings Reg and Ruth, though bears all largely with civility and a certain amount of gratitude that they have come to visit for the weekend, along however with a simmering resentment that they are obviously fairly oblivious to the ties that bind her forever to fending for Mother’s every need. Such a common situation for so many families, and great writing from Ayckbourn to portray this so successfully.
Annie does have a chance of romance, however, with her suitor, the vet Tom whose head is always up in the clouds, and who has the emotional intelligence of a flea, quite unable to read Annie’s signals, and get round to popping the question, or indeed grabbing a kiss. A lovely and endearing performance from Matt Weaver, I think we were all rooting for him to get on and make a move! I’ve now seen him as Tom twice, and can’t wait to see him in a different role and a quite different character – a swash-buckling pirate, maybe, or a wild murderer!
Reg and Sarah are the archetypal married couple swamped with children, glad to be free of them for this weekend away. Wife wears the trousers, probably because she is the more practical and focussed of the two. Husband is really oblivious to most things, other than his all-consuming passion – the invention of board games! Plenty of humour in all that, exploited well by Ian Macfarlane as Reg and Vykki Mash as Sarah. Vykki Mash portrayed Sarah well as the woman who has grown away from her boring husband and would now be quite open to exploring other possibilities, with her brother-in-law, for example, if the opportunity arose. Wild-tempered she could be too when roused, and Vykki gave us some good demonstrations of this. Ian Macfarlane managed to make us feel quite sorry for him in the board game scene, whilst at the same time, we shared everybody else’s frustration at having to play the damned thing! Good comic performances.
Finally, in the second half, we get to meet Norman’s long-suffering wife Ruth. Moyra Brookes played this role to perfection, making us wonder how a feisty lady such as she could both manage and put up with a roguish wimp (can there be such a thing?) like Norman. And yet, and yet, was there still some genuine affection there? The ‘rug’ seduction scene allowed the two of them to show us that there was.
Ayckbourn’s play showed us the sadness of the human condition, and the cast brought this over very well, but also the comedy of the hum-drum middle-class existence. And for most of the characters, Ayckbourn provided an element of hope – though I’m not sure about Reg unless he managed finally to sell one of his games to a manufacturer!
Danny Sparkes provided a finely directed evening’s enjoyment. We laughed a lot, but we were also given food for thought.