by Alan Ayckbourn.

The Mill at Sonning Sonning Eye RG4 6TY To 21 November 2015.
Tue-Sat 8.15pm (+ dinner 6.15pm).
Mat Sat & Sun 2.15pm(+lunch 12.15pm).
Runs 2hr One interval.

TICKETS: 0118 969 8000.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 11 October.

Ayckbourn’s Gardening session still ploughs a comic furrow.
Everything by the river’s lovely at Sonning, as usual. But not everything in the Ayckbourn Garden’s lovely, from Annie’s cat, which resists all her neighbour and local vet Tom’s attempts to entice it down, to Norman, who’s supposed to be meeting her at the local bus station for a weekend’s dalliance, supposedly by the sea – but nothing ever goes right with Norman, who turns-up, battered case in hand and snags himself on the rose bushes.

Laid-back librarian Norman has the perfect job for someone who finds reality inconvenient. The umbrella title ‘The Norman Conquests’ came after the three plays it encompasses – Round and Round the Garden was the last to be premiered in successive weeks during Scarborough Library Theatre’s summer season 1973, and the only one to keep its original title – but it identifies the driving force of the interlocking events in plays depicting events in a dining-room, living-room and garden over a weekend.

By itself, Garden is a satisfying comedy, though perhaps missing more than the others in overall mood. Maybe that’s to do with the disparate behaviour a garden as opposed to a room involves. There’s nowhere to sit, for example, though the second act has a scene of fine humorous awkwardness as Tom politely copies Ruth’s manner of perching on a folding-chair she cannot open.

And Annie, least presumptuous in manner of the three women, seems less developed than in the other plays. More than that, the bedridden mother upstairs, whose condition requires others to stay while Annie is away, is less of a baleful character; perhaps Ayckbourn decided he’d said enough to create her in the minds of those coming to all three plays.

Michael Holt’s set, with Matthew Biss’s lighting, creates a sense of sun-soaked English solidity, though the brambles at the side suggest there’s work to be done still. Abigail Anderson might have taken the production further if she’d been in charge from the start. Yet, another director having had to withdraw owing to life refusing to set its timetable by artistic requirements, she still presents an enjoyable account of Ayckbourn’s early success.

Norman: James Wallace.
Ruth: Sarah Edwardson.
Sarah: Susannah Harker.
Annie: Nelly Harker.
Reg: Harry Gostelow.
Tom: Chris Porter.

Director: Abigail Anderson.
Designer: Michael Holt.
Lighting: Matthew Biss.
Sound: Matt Smee.
Costume: Jane Kidd.

2015-10-13 16:35:24

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