Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Round and Round the Garden (The Norman Conquests)

Albert Schultz (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

In The Garden, Dark and Deep
by Ramya Jegatheesan

Welcome to the garden, where a weekend of depraved seduction takes a twisted turn outside, and Norman, our jubilant anti-hero, muses on his lovely pyjamas, irresistible animal magnetism and the raw pleasure of touching earthy things. 

Round and Round the Garden is the rousing and brilliant climax to The Norman Conquests, Alan Ayckbourn’s trio of plays about a librarian who fancies himself a gigolo and unleashes his amorous yearnings upon a dysfunctional family. 

This third instalment is a fitting end to Table Manners and Living Together (its predecessors), but even as Round and Round the Garden erupts with hilarity, it carries dark undercurrents of angst, loneliness and pain.  Norman is an overgrown, overeager shaggy dog who will mount anyone who rewards him with an encouraging glance. Yet his affable exterior disguises a deep well of insecurity as well as a libertine and cavalier attitude towards life and women.  It is a testament to the playwright’s genius that he can take pain and insight and infuse it with so much humour.  Ayckbourn takes characters who, at first glance, you might dismiss as hoary clichés, and elevates them to breathtakingly vulnerable and human individuals. The whole trilogy is a fascinating commentary on family and relationship dynamics, and with Soulpepper and director Ted Dykstra at the helm, it is a theatrical experience you will not want to miss.  

This cast is second to none. Tom (Oliver Dennis) nearly stole the show with his graceful frolicking amongst the lawn chairs while Norman is played to great effect by Soulpepper’s artistic director, Albert Schultz, who walks the line between roguish rake and smarmy lecher with charm and ingenuity. Like Schultz, Norman is a theatrical impresario in his own right, concocting a series of clever ruses and romantic trysts that are so thoroughly entertaining that it is difficult to despise him. And when it comes to matters of the female heart, Norman is a master puppeteer whose antics inspire amused laughter in between spells of gaping disbelief. 

But if you can pinpoint a standout actor in this show, it may well be Fiona Reed as Sarah. Sarah is the surprising comedic catalyst of this trilogy, and Reed’s masterful physical acting exposes the sexually repressed girl bubbling underneath a veneer of severity. Sarah is the yippy Chihuahua to Norman’s shaggy dog, and when she walks on set, you can be sure howls of laughter will follow. 

Soulpepper’s production of The Norman Conquests is one of the most entertaining evenings of theatre you’ll experience. Taken together, these plays are a theatrical triumph.  

Run time: 2 hours with one 20-minute intermission. 

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