The Norman Conquests (1974)These two articles were written by Alan Ayckbourn for the London premiere of The Norman Conquests at the Greenwich Theatre in 1974.
Article for The Norman Conquests publicity
The Norman Conquests concern not William the Conqueror but a new, dynamic modern hero, Norman the Assistant Librarian.
This new Norman's ambitions of conquest are as equally far-reaching though - his wife's sister, his sister-in-law and his wife. Here is a romantic who, after himself, loves no one so much as the woman he can't have.
Over the course of the three plays, each playing on a separate night, we follow the course of this pursuit by the awkward of the unattainable; of Norman's flailing attempts to bring happiness to everyone and satisfaction for himself.
The plays tell and retell of the turbulently comic events that occur in a house over a country weekend. Each is seen from a different viewpoint: from the dining room (Table Manners), from the living room (Living Together) and from the garden (Round And Round The Garden).
They can be seen in any order since, like a three-ended ball of string, it doesn't really matter where you start to unravel. See one, see two or, to qualify for the special Norman Award for Lack of Industry, see all three.
Article for The Norman Conquests programme
The three plays (Table Manners, Living Together and Round And Round The Garden) that go to make up The Norman Conquests were first produced, as were the majority of my previous plays, at the Library Theatre in Scarborough.
My writing career has always been inextricably tied to this company, initially as a result of encouragement from its late director and founder, Stephen Joseph. He was a man who believed that where possible playwrights belonged inside theatre companies, whether as actors, directors or box office assistants. At that time, apart from the more distinguished ones, authors were worried looking men who came to first readings, left, causing sighs of relief all round and occasionally, if they were allowed in, turned up at the dress rehearsal looking by now distinctly alarmed.
I count myself extremely fortunate in that when I started on my writing career I not only had a ready market for my work but was already an accepted member of the group who produced it. Not always the most painless way to learn one's mistakes but then actors with eight and a half second quick changes can be brutally frank at times.
I later inherited the job of director at Scarborough and, amongst other things, took full advantage of this by continuing to commission from myself one play a year.
The disadvantages of always writing for this tiny 250 seater theatre-in-the-round - rarely more than six actors to call on and only two entrances on stage - are outweighed by the need for me to meet deadlines, the freedom to experiment and the sheer pleasure of working for at least part of the year, directly, with actors and audiences.
The Norman Conquests were the result of my 1973 commission from myself. They were intended to be played, as they will be in Greenwich, in repertoire alternating night by night. Although very closely related thematically and in every other way they were meant to be enjoyed as individual plays. I realised the unlikelihood of an audience necessarily being able to see the plays either in any correct order or indeed that they could automatically find time to see all three anyway.
It is a dangerous thing to claim any sort of innovation in the theatre so I will merely say that this sort of thing hasn't been done all that often before.
It has always seemed to me that one of my main pleasures to be had in theatre is that of watching good actors blending skill with an enjoyment for what they are doing. It's my hope that these plays give them the opportunity to display this and, for the audience, the pleasure of sharing it with them.
Copyright: Alan Ayckbourn. Please do not reproduce without the permission of the copyright holder.