Review: The Norman Conquests

By John Nathan, October 10, 2008

Old Vic, London SE1

A country house populated by three sisters and a lovelorn family so cursed with disappointment and disillusionment as to drive its members to despair.

Well, OK, two sisters and one sister-in-law. So not quite Chekhov, but director Matthew Warchus's wonderfully performed revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 35-year-old comic trilogy, with a curly-mopped, shaggy-bearded Stephen Mangan as the charming monster Norman who hits on all three women over the course of one weekend, highlights as much tragedy as comedy. Despite the pleasing '70s period detail there is no whiff of datedness. This is partly down to Rob Howell's inspired in-the-round design that not only breaths new life into Ayckbourn but into the old fashioned Old Vic, which has been turned from a cavernous and remote venue into a wonderfully intimate space. I wish all the Old Vic's plays could be seen like this.

Like all classic trilogies each of Ayckbourn's plays works well on its own, but like a treat when seen together.

One play in the trilogy is set in the dining room, another in the living room, and the third in the garden. Each depicts the same events over 48-hours during which Jessica Hynes's Annie is so desperate for some hot loving, if she can't get it from the Ben Mile's infuriatingly diffident Tom, she will get it from her brother-in-law Norman.

You can take your pick from six flawless performances. But other than Mangan, Hynes and Paul Ritter's anorak Reg are outstanding, though Amanda Root as Reg's up-tight wife Sarah is pretty wonderful too.

And artistic director Kevin Spacey, who, with the help of Warchus, easily gave London this year's most thrilling show with Speed the Plow, is achieving the seemingly impossible - returning the Old Vic to its heyday. (Tel: 0870 060 6628)

Last updated: 2:39pm, October 10 2008