Thursday, October 10, 2013

Review: (Toronto) Table Manners (The Norman Conquests)

Albert Schultz, Oliver Dennis (photo by Cylla von Tiedemann)

The Party of the Year
by Ramya Jegatheesan

Meet Norman (Albert Schultz), a bearish Lothario, who sets out to seduce the ladies of the house beginning with his lonely sister-in-law Annie. 

Stranded in Annie’s (Laura Condlln) country home when a dirty weekend away is foiled by nosy relatives and a put-upon wife, Norman re-jigs his plans for romantic conquest and throws the whole house into chaos. No one is safe. 

Reg (Derek Boyes) says the women hate Norman, but the truth is a much murkier creature than that. Norman may not look it, but he is an incorrigible charmer and every man’s id unleashed. He knows just the right words to whisper to soften even the most severe and nervous of women. This makes him unpredictable. It makes him dangerous. 

Set in a run-down country estate, Ayckbourn’s Table Manners is the first of a set of three interlocking plays that can be consumed singly or in any order. They offer three concurrent vantage points on one family’s dysfunction and breakdown. The playwright’s advice? “It’s better to see all of them first.” 

Whether you see Table Manners, Living Together or Round and Round The Garden, or all of them, one thing is clear: Soulpepper’s production of The Norman Conquests is off to a riotous start.  

Table Manners, the first installment, is a rare comedic romp: it is dark, rascally and deliriously funny. So funny that, in moments, the audience’s laughter drowned out some of the actors’ lines. That is the only criticism (if you can even call that a criticism) I can think of about Table Manners. The actors are brilliant individually and as an ensemble. There are no throwaway gestures or words. Every look and every word provokes. Even the transitions are done with exceptional artistry and grace.

Soulpepper’s production of Table Manners is amongst the year’s best theatre, and it is one dinner party invitation you will not want to refuse. See it. 

Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 20-minute intermission. 

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