|Audition Notice||The Norman Conquests||
by Alan Ayckbourn
For the Tower Theatre, Victor Craven has directed The Habit of Art, Comic Potential, On Religion and Blackbird. Other directing projects include What Do You Do With An Idea?, Voyager and Game Over (London Symphony Orchestra); A Chip in the Sugar, Her Big Chance, Bed Among the Lentils and A Lady of Letters (Landor Theatre); Lettice and Lovage, Ten Times Table, Relatively Speaking, Confusionsn, One For the Road, Habeas Corpus and Toad of Toad Hall.
#ayckbourn@80 : Part of the Tower Theatre Company's celebration of Alan Ayckbourn's 80th year.
The director writes :
Performed over a three week repertory run in Tower Theatre's full in-the-round configuration, this production will give a group of six dedicated and passionate actors a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fully explore the genius of these hilarious and poignant plays written when Ayckbourn was at the top of his game.
Each performance (apart from the very first) is a different experience for the actors as they have no knowledge which of the three plays an audience member may or may not have already seen, and therefore the responses to any given moment will be unique. This creates a fascinating frisson between actors and audience members alike and will be extremely exhilarating to perform.
Directing The Norman Conquests in repertory and with the same cast has been a long held ambition and it is only now that Tower Theatre has its new permanent home coupled with an ambitious Artistic Team and supportive Company Committees that I can finally realise this dream.
It is important to note that this production will require over twice the usual Tower show time commitment, but the rewards of being part of such an exciting and ambitious project will be immeasurable.
The Norman Conquests is a trilogy of plays (Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden) concerning a group of related people. First performed in Scarborough and London in the early 1970s, a hugely successful revival played at the Old Vic Theatre in 2008 starring Jessica Hynes and Ben Miles, and with Stephen Mangan as Norman.
The plays are not consecutive, but all occur during a single weekend in different parts of the same house. Thus we are watching events which are taking place simultaneously with those we have seen, or are about to see. Each is complete in itself and can be played as a separate entity, and they can be performed in any order. However, each benefits if all can be produced as one threefold whole.
Annie has arranged to spend an illicit weekend with her sister Ruth's husband Norman, and for this reason has asked her elder brother Reg and his wife Sarah to look after the house and their widowed mother. It is generally assumed by all that Annie ought to pair off with Tom, but her attempts to communicate this to him never seem to penetrate. And the one consistent ambition throughout the weekend is that of assistant librarian Norman's attempts to seduce all three women.
Actor stage time and commitment :
Each of the three plays has two acts and each act consists of two scenes. Each play runs to approximately two hours plus interval, making a total of six hours acting time. All six characters appear in all three plays. A large part of the trilogy stage time consists of duologues, with a total of only seven pages where all six characters are on stage together.
The stage time for each character breaks down as follows:
Norman = 1.90 plays or approx. 3.8 hours of stage time
Tom = 1.32 plays or approx. 2.6 hours of stage time
Sarah = 1.16 plays or approx. 2.3 hours of stage time
Annie = 1.57 plays or approx. 3.1 hours of stage time
Reg = 1.41 plays or approx. 2.8 hours of stage time
Ruth = 0.96 plays or approx. 1.9 hours of stage time
Actors will be asked to begin learning lines from the time of casting and must only be involved with this production.
Cast required :
Previous productions of The Norman Conquests have depicted a group of white, middle class suburban characters. Given the universal themes examined in the play, the director is keen to explore multiracial casting and encourages actors of all ethnicities and backgrounds to audition.
Annie (Reg and Ruth's sister) - 30s/40s : Not so much a meek personality as what one might term an anything-for-a-quiet-life personality. Her anxiety to see least trouble often leads her to be taken advantage of by the others. "Easier", she feels, "to do something yourself than go through all the arguments and bickering required to persuade someone else to do it." This attitude has led her to accept far too great a share of the family responsibilities, especially with regard to her mother. Ironically, she already sees herself as her own worst enemy and is well aware of what she is doing. Her low self esteem is something that instantly attracts Norman. But Annie is tougher than she looks. There is another dormant, tougher side to her altogether.
Sarah (Reg's wife) - 30s/40s : I suspect a psychiatrist would find Sarah a deeply unhappy woman. She is certainly shrouded in deep guilt about practically everything. This results in her assuming responsibility for the world and his mother. She foresees disasters that may never happen, finds a crisis (and even creates one) where there was none previously and invariably dramatises the tiniest incident. Maybe it is her instinctive sense of order that causes this. Her desire to see everything in its place and staying there. She must have been the saddest little girl. For ever scrubbing and polishing her dolls, scolding and reproaching them for failing to sit up straight or for falling off their chairs. All her tea parties must have ended in tears of frustration. Despite her apparent care for the world, she is extraordinarily self centred, somewhat vain, a bully, sexually repressed and not, alas, very bright.
Ruth (Annie and Reg's sister and Norman's wife) - 30s/40s : Although she'd never admit it, her attitude is not a million miles away from Annie's. Ruth has simply chosen a different path to achieve the same result. In her case, a couldn't care less, seemingly cool manner which she affects in order to keep the world at bay. It is no accident that she chooses to view the world out of focus by refusing to wear her glasses. That way she hopes to keep it from impinging on her. Yet there is another side to Ruth. She is actually a passionate woman and a very intelligent one - by far the brightest of them all. This has led her away from the safe relationships her head tells her would make sense towards the unconventional, the unstable - hers and Norman's. Although the two are chalk and cheese, of course they are opposites irresistibly attracted.
Reg (Annie and Ruth's brother and Sarah's husband) - 30s/40s : A bit of a contradiction is Reg. On the surface a bit of a man's man, gregarious, jokey, a mite vulgar, he's really just a little boy who's never really grown up. His and Sarah's relationship is far more mother and third child than husband and wife. And quite a loner. He's very happy with his own company and again is someone who's happy to settle for a quiet life. He's very fond of Annie but not it seems fond enough to do anything much about helping her. Once again his and Sarah's is a marriage which, whilst seemingly filled with turmoil, is probably one that suits them both. Reg's description of himself in Living Together is probably as accurate as anything. In between bouts of furious activity (he responds well to physical or practical emergencies) he is happy to sit for days staring at the wall.
Tom - 30s/40s : Not quite as slow witted as he seems, Tom's real problem is his inability to tune in or focus properly on others. He's either a beat behind (more usual) or occasionally even a beat ahead. Or somewhere else altogether. People, so far as Tom is concerned, are a total mystery, an unreadable book. Their behaviour is totally inexplicable. Rages, depressions, bouts of tears, bursts of unexplained laughter. It's not that he doesn't listen. Often he listens too hard. To no avail. The harder he listens the more he tries to please them, the greater they rant and rage. But you should see him with an injured horse. An almost perfect communion between man and beast. If this makes him seem rather sweet and charming, yes, he is. He's also essentially as selfish and self-interested as the day is long.
Norman (Ruth's husband) - 30s/40s : The wild card in the pack. Norman's strength, though even he fails to realise it some of the time, is that he's totally transparent. He makes no secret of his needs and desires. He's discovered the greatest male sexual secret, namely that the quickest way to a woman's heart (and body) is to ask her for it. And to keep on asking her till she says yes. His 'yes' rate is extraordinarily high for someone with apparently such an unappetising profile and slightly dubious personal habits. "How does he do it?" other better groomed men ask in bewilderment. But then Norman is unafraid and rarely offended by a refusal. Indeed, he could probably have been the Don Juan he professes to want to be. But the thrill of the chase is all for Norman. Invariably, at the kill, he will back off or lose interest. Enough for him to know that the unattainable was within his grasp rather than spoil the romantic dream by taking it. It is this romance, this unthreatening harmlessness, this genuine love of women, all women, the ability to see them, every one, as charmed and beautiful beings, that attracts them to him. They know he manipulates, they are well aware he often schemes and lies, but when the end product of these machinations is a desire for them, themselves - what the hell. How often in life do you get the chance to be the irresistible object of someone's desire? It's good to have been there once, even with Norman. Needless to say, the biggest single driving force in Norman's life is his need to be liked, if not loved, by everyone.