round heaad


Round and Round the Garden

Malvern Theatres


AN overgrown bouncy housedog is how Alan Ayckbourn portrays Norman, the pivotal character in his play Round and Round the Garden which forms part of his Norman Conquests trilogy.

Jumping up at each of the women in turn, Annie, Sarah and Ruth (his long-suffering wife), he provides charm, humour, emotional extravagance, colour and wild immoral behaviour which leaves each of them exasperated with him and yet tolerant.

The action of the play takes place in the neat garden of a detached country house over a weekend. Annie, Ruth and Reg are siblings, but Annie who is single is the one who cares for their ageing mother who lives upstairs. Reg and Sarah arrive to give her relief for a couple of nights when she intends to go away, mooching on her own, possibly to be joined by Tom for a dirty weekend, or even by Norman for a couple of nights off-piste in East Grinstead.

However plans for departure are overtaken and they end up having a drink-soaked evening in which Norman gets significantly drunk. The weekend unfolds in an unexpected way therefore, until it is time to leave on the Monday.

Here is Ayckbourn’s brilliant wit bringing colourful characters together who are in a way rather lost in their morally liberalised world of the 70s and 80s, The men in particular are rather eccentric: Tom is emotionally illiterate almost to the point of autism; Reg is very talkative, technical and hen-pecked; Norman engagingly and incorrigibly irresponsible in his deceptions and flirtations.

Ayckbourn’s humour derives from the mixture of characters and the witty dialogue at which he is so clever, and his skilful use of repetition and echo. Simple devices like the unfolding of a deckchair become funny when repeated to underline the comic eccentricities of character.

The show is brought to humorous life by a talented cast from producers Talking Scarlet. Philip Stewart holds the attention with his mischievous portrayal of Norman, but the effect would not be successful without the balance and contrasts provided by his matter-or-fact, somewhat cynical yet tolerant wife Ruth; by Reg’s joviality and preoccupation with endless and meaningless details of cartography and fusewire etc; and by Tom’s totally contrasting inability to understand and manage relationships with women.

Ben Roddy plays Tom with a wonderfully straight face and tone of voice. When he completely misunderstands Ruth’s irony in Act Two and assaults her on the lawn, the audience convulsed with laughter. Jo Castleton brilliantly portrayed the anguish of one who was longing for affection, yet despairing at Tom’s inability to communicate it.

The performances of all the cast were excellent. The design of the garden, the rear of the house and the archway were pleasing and provided the necessary context for the real action of the play. Ayckbourn once again charms us with his humorous analysis of, and sympathy for, characters who are rather lost in an amoral universe and striving to find fulfilment through the complex network of human relationships. To 20-02-16

Tim Crow


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