Sir Alan Ayckbourn celebrates both his 80th birthday and the 60th anniversary of his professional playwrighting debut this year. Incredibly, his 83rd full length play will premiere in Scarborough this summer. Perfect timing this week then, for Quarndon Amateur Dramatic Society (QUADS) to treat audiences to a farcical journey back to the mid-1970s in their staging of one of the much-loved Norman Conquest plays – Living Together.
A trilogy of comedies which feature the same six characters in the same house during the same weekend, The Norman Conquests are regarded as one of Ayckbourn’s most ingeniously constructed set of plays. Although lacking the darkness of his later work, this early series of plays can be seen as a comic dissection of middle-class morality. Directing a perfectly cast group of actors, Peter Konowalik rises to the challenge of capturing these undertones whilst providing plenty of laughs. Loneliness, dissatisfaction and frustration bubble under the surface of the performances but we are ultimately here for the ride, and it’s a joyfully bumpy and thoroughly enjoyable one.
Living Together depicts the events of one weekend from the perspective of the living room (the other two plays in the trilogy centre on the dining room and garden) as we follow the exploits of assistant librarian Norman and his attempts to seduce, with varying degrees of success, three women present at an English country house. There’s excellent work from the whole six-strong cast. Rick Law’s performance as the rakish womaniser Norman, fuelled by homemade dandelion wine and disappointment, is spot-on as the opportunistic ‘player’.
Norman’s first thwarted conquest is Annie, played by Alex Wrampling in a performance which captures this put-upon youngest daughter’s frustration, anger and martyrdom perfectly. Richard Whitehorn plays Annie’s older brother Reg, displaying great comic timing to bring this board-game-bore to life and conveying his exasperation in a brilliantly realised moment of physical comedy as he jumps around the stage diagonally to demonstrate the nonsensical nature of bishops moving sideways in chess.
Sonia Hardy is wonderfully haughty in her performance as Reg’s interfering, bossy wife Sarah, her supercilious smile cracking at times to reveal the vulnerable woman beneath the surface. As dull-witted local vet Tom, Edward Pickering-Symes delivers a masterclass in understated comic timing, full of fumbling uncertainty in his inability to court Annie.
The arrival of Reg and Annie’s sister, and Norman’s wife, in the second half adds another layer of complexity to the chaos. Clare Snape delivers a delightfully clipped and poised performance as the long-suffering Ruth, nicely conveying the frustrations of being married to a man with a wandering eye. The racy rug-rolling romp scene in which she is seduced by her own husband provides a comic highlight to an evening packed with laughs.
‘Living Together’ proves impossible, even for a weekend, for these characters but watching them try is a comic treat. An impressive production of an Ayckbourn classic. Happy 80th birthday Sir Alan.
‘Living Together’ was performed at Quarndon Village Hall from 16th to 18th May 2019. For future performances visit the QUADS website.