Friday, October 24, 2008

The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn, Old Vic 18-Oct-2008 – Director Matthew Warchus

This is what I think anyway - Table Manners, the first play in the Norman Conquests trilogy (the first one I saw - which may have clouded my judgement) was probably nearly completed before the trilogy thing was thought up. I know that they say that the plays can be seen in any order but I'm not sure. Table Manners felt like a complete play, funny touching and sad, there are definitely gaps but you don't feel you've missed anything. Also the characters feel rounded and sympathetic, even if you don't completely like them.
Living Together felt a little like filler in comparison, other bloggers who saw this first (and only) hated it and I can see why. Characters seem nastier, not as well drawn, the plot feels scrappy and the jokes don't really work. That is, if you haven't seen Table Manners first (preferably an hour and a half before), then you see how the scenes bleed into each-other, how jokes in Table Manners are prefigured or paid off in this one and you feel that you are seeing different aspects of the characters. LT is still not as complete a play, it fills in gaps and has unnecessary silences where solitary characters are left doing very little.
Having filled in the gaps Ayckbourn seems to have decided to throw away most of the plot for Round and Round the Garden. Characters that were changed subtly in from Table Manners to Living Together get a more extreme makeover here. Also the minor characters of the six (from the previous plays), Tom and Ruth, get an entirely strange subplot of comic misunderstanding which really wasn't alluded to in the other plays. Round and Round the Garden also has what feels like an epilogue where much that was likely to happen after the end of Table Manners was overturned. For me the play was more complete than Living Together and possibly able to stand on its own but it wasn't quite as satisfying as Tables Manners.
This is rather long winded way of saying "see Table Manners first" whatever you are told to the contrary. The plays are not equal; there's a great one and two lesser ones rendered good by seeing the great one first.
Paul Ritter was fantastic when he wasn't being forced to be the "car bore" (I hate that character in Ayckbourn plays with the nasal voice, obsessed by cars, tools and the A147). Stephen Mangan made Norman sympathetic and sexy each time his character's boorishness was about to take over.
As a piece of nerdishness and to help me see the plays more clearly, I thought I'd write down the trilogy in chronological order:
Saturday 5:30pm - Round and Round the Garden - Act 1 Scene 1
Saturday 6:00pm - Table Manners - Act 1 Scene 1
Saturday 6:30pm - Living Together - Act 1 Scene 1
Saturday 8:00pm - Living Together - Act 1 Scene 2
Saturday 9:00pm - Round and Round the Garden - Act 1 Scene 2
Sunday 9:00am - Table Manners - Act 1 Scene 2
Sunday 11:00am - Round and Round the Garden - Act 2 Scene 1
Sunday 8:00pm - Table Manners - Act 2 Scene 1
Sunday 9:00pm - Living Together - Act 2 Scene 1
Monday 8am - Table Manners - Act 2 Scene 2
Monday 8am - Living Together - Act 2 Scene 2
Monday 9am - Round and Round the Garden - Act 2 Scene 2

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Oedipus by Sophocles, version by Frank McGuinness, Olivier Theatre, 8-Oct-2008 - Directed by Jonathan Kent

I'm probably not allowed to do the Oedipus-Schmeedipus-so-long-as-the-boy-loves-his-mother joke so I won’t.
The evening started before the actual when a group of men dressed in dark suits and collarless ties arrived and seated themselves strategically near the stage. Their presence wasn't that odd, after all they were members of the chorus gathering to make a big entrance at some point.
The stage was a shallow dome or top chord of a sphere with a mighty set of doors at its top. The whole thing rotated slow throughout the play and the only other piece of furniture was a large wooden picnic style that appeared to sit on the dome without moving with it. I did find this effect clever so much as a distraction while I worked how it was being done.
Noticing immovable may suggest to some that there wasn't better stuff on stage, but there was. I just get easily distracted by stage trickery that I feel compelled to work out. Ralph Fiennes and Clare Higgins were good although I didn't sense the heat between them that I thought the story demanded. The parade of talents – the actors coming in to deliver messages or have a row with Oedipus - were also good if a bit too much like a parade. I realise it's the play's structure but I don't have to like it.
Actually there was something about the play that I didn't like: It is a mystery yet all the pieces of the puzzle felt pretty much in place well before the end. I know I'm familiar with the story from reading Robert Graves Greek Myths and I've seen the play before but I've never been so aware of the structure or the fact that most of the interesting stuff happens off-stage. Also I noticed that although the Riddle of the Sphinx is alluded to and the solution is given, the actual question is never mentioned.

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