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Norman continues to conquer in Living Together

By Barbara Popel on September 16, 2015

There’s a not-to-be-missed theatrical treat at The Gladstone!

Living Together is the second of a theatrical triple-header called The Norman Conquests.  You can read my review of the first play, Table Manners here.  I’ve learned since then that Alan Ayckbourn wrote this brilliant trio of plays in a mere 10 days.  One patron on opening night of Living Together compared Ayckbourn’s accomplishment to Mozart creating an opera or dashing off a symphony.  Yes, The Norman Conquests is that good.

But you needn’t have seen Table Manners to enjoy Living Together.  Far from it!  Because the writing is so good and the acting and direction are so polished, the exposition in the first couple of scenes of Living Together makes the situation and the tangled relationships perfectly clear to the audience.  However, if you’ve seen Table Manners already, you do get a delicious frisson of recognition each time a character exits to go to the dining room (the setting of Table Manners) or returns from the dining room to the living room, as you remember what kind of mischief is transpiring in there.

There’s plenty of mischief on offer in the living room, too.  And what a great setting it is for this play!  It shares the same mismatched slightly worn furniture we saw in the dining room and (my favourite touch!) the same patches of rising damp and chipped plaster on the walls.  Bravo to David Magladry, the set and lighting designer.

Julie Le Gal and Steve Martin.

Julie Le Gal and Steve Martin.

The six actors are in fine form.  I’m not sure which actor is the most impressive, as director John P. Kelly has elicited magnificent performances from all of them.

There’s AL Connors as the romantic fool, Norman (“Anyone I love is automatically beautiful”), and there’s Julie Le Gal as Ruth, Norman’s waspish wife who is quite aware of Norman’s numerous “conquests” and is running out of patience with his shenanigans.

There’s Margo MacDonald, the control freak wife of Reg who spends the play so tightly wound up you expect her to explode at any moment. She may be channelling Margaret Thatcher in her steely resolve to bend everyone to her will.  Steve Martin as Reg tries, unsuccessfully, to counterbalance his dragon of a wife with “hale fellow well met” behaviour…and a board game he’s invented.  His mini-eruption when he rails against the game of chess (“Realistic?  Who ever heard of horses jumping sideways?”) had the audience roaring with laughter.

Then there’s Ruth and Reg’s frumpish sister, Annie, played by Michelle LeBlanc.  She’s perhaps the most complex of Ayckbourn’s characters – frustrated with her limited options, her dreary sort-of fiancé, Tom (played by David Whiteley), and the burden of caring for her hypochondriac mother for many more years.  But she also knows her own mind and isn’t quite the ministering angel and doormat everyone wants her to be. Whiteley’s Tom is a superb doofus – close to but not quite a British twit caricature.  He too had the audience guffawing.  Yet when Annie insults him, we genuinely feel for his tender soul.

As with Table Manners, Living Together’s dialogue sparkles with wit and malice.

Why do these unhappy mortals stay together?  This play, more than Table Manners, answers that question.   I’m sure you’ll agree with Ruth, who opines, “Other people’s marriages are always a source of amazement to others.”

And you may be surprised at who Norman’s conquest is in this play.

Judging from the laughter and smiles afterwards, the opening night audience had a wonderful time.  It should be great fun to see Round and Round the Garden, the third in the trilogy.

Table Manners, Living Together and, in a couple of weeks, Round and Round the Garden, are running in rotation at The Gladstone until Oct.10, 2015  I strongly recommend that you see all three plays! Click here for more info and tickets.