I had the enormous pleasure on Saturday and Monday of seeing the three plays that make up The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn, put on by the Soulpepper company here in Toronto. This review of the October 2013 production explains well how well done they all were and what great plays they are. It was more excellent work by Soulpepper; even more enjoyable than usual because seeing three plays in such a short time—two Saturday and one Monday—concentrates and intensifies everything.
Here I note two especially interesting about the trilogy: the chronology and the fact that Norman is a librarian. I admit that second fact is of limited interest to non-librarians, but after all I myself am a librarian.
The three plays all take place over the same weekend with the same six characters, but Table Manners is set in the dining room, Living Together in the sitting room, and Round and Round the Garden in the garden. Each has two acts with two scenes, but the times are staggered, so as you see them—I saw them in that order—the pieces all lock together, and when someone enters a room in one play you realize you saw them leave from another room in another play, or when someone says something offhand in one play you realize they’re covering up an intense experience from another play.
- I.i: The dining room. Saturday evening, 6 pm
- I.ii: The dining room. Sunday morning. 9 am
- II.i: The dining room. Sunday evening, 8 pm
- II.ii: The dining room. Monday morning, 8 am
- I.i: The sitting room. Saturday, 6:30 pm
- I.ii: The sitting room. Saturday, 8 pm
- II.i: The sitting room. Sunday, 9 pm
- II.ii: The sitting room. Monday, 8 am
Round and Round the Garden
- I.i: The garden. Saturday, 5:30 pm
- I.ii: The garden. Saturday, 9 pm
- II.i: The garden. Sunday, 11 am
- II.ii: The garden. Monday, 9 am
Round and Round the Garden comes third in the sequence but contains the weekend in time: it begins first, Saturday at 5:30 pm, and ends last, in the garden on Monday morning at 9 am when people are leaving.
Seeing all three, and spending over six hours with the six actors—while sitting in the front row of an arena theatre!—was a marvellous experience.
The Norman Conquests was first produced at the Library Theatre, which at the time was inside the library in Scarborough in Yorkshire.
Ayckbourn’s official web site has a huge amount of material about The Norman Conquests.
One of the characters is a librarian: Norman, played by Albert Schultz. He does it as a great hairy shambling kind of a man, as many male librarians are, and suitably dressed in a cardigan, as all librarians are. There are a few good library-related lines:
From Table Manners:
Norman: The trouble is, I was born in the wrong damn body. Look at me. A gigolo trapped in a haystack. The tragedy of my life. Norman Dewers—gigolo and assistant librarian.
Ruth: Forget it. You couldn’t possibly take Norman away from me. That assumes I own him in the first place. I’ve never done that. I always feel with Norman that I have him on loan from somewhere. Like one of his library books. I’ll get a card one day informing me he’s overdue and there’s a fine to pay on him.
From Living Together:
Sarah: I thought you were in a hurry to go somewhere, Norman.
Norman: Not at all.
Reg: Yes, I thought you said you had a—librarian’s conference.
Norman: It’s been cancelled.
Norman: About ten seconds ago. Due to lack of interest.
Reg: Funny lot these librarians.
Sarah: It’s a bit late to consider his feelings now, isn’t it? Having tried to steal Annie from under his nose.
Norman: I wasn’t stealing her, I was borrowing her. For the weekend.
Sarah: Makes her sound like one of your library books.
Annie: What are you going to tell Ruth?
Norman: What I was going to tell her anyway. I’ve been on a conference.
Annie: Which finished early?
Norman: Something like that. We ran out of things to talk about. What does it matter? She won’t care. She probably thinks I’m in the attic mending the roof.
Annie: I didn’t know Assistant Librarians had conferences.
Norman: Everybody has conferences.
Ruth: You’re supposed to be at work too.
Norman: I was taken ill, haven’t you heard?
Ruth: I’m amazed they keep you on.
Norman: I’m a very good librarian, that’s why. I know where all the dirty bits are in all the books.
From Round and Round the Garden:
Tom: Oh. I thought you said you were staying.
Norman: No, I’m just passing through on my way to East Grinstead.
Tom: Really? Business?
Norman: Yes. International Association of Assistant Librarians Annual Conference.
Tom: Jolly good.
Norman: I was brought up to believe it was very insulting to sleep with your wife or any lady. A gentleman stays eagerly awake. He sleeps at his work. That’s what work’s for. Why do you think they have SILENCE notices in the library? So as not to disturb me in my little nook behind the biography shelves. L–P.
Ruth: They’ll sack you.
Norman: They daren’t. I reorganized the Main Index. When I die, the secret dies with me.