The Norman Conquests - Table Manners: World Premiere ReviewsThe following reviews mark the only two publications to review Table Manners during its original production at the Library Theatre, Scarborough. At the time, the play had a different title (and together the plays were not known as The Norman Conquests trilogy). The play was originally called Fancy Meeting You and later retitled Table Manners for the London premiere in 1974. All reviews on this page are the copyright of the respective publication and / or author and should not be reproduced. Extracts from reviews of the original West End production of The Norman Conquests can be found here.
Fancy Meeting You In Scarborough (by Robin Thornber)
"Every year for the past few years Alan Ayckbourn has written a new comedy for the summer season of theatre in the round he directs at Scarborough Library. Some of them, like Relatively Speaking, and How The Other Half Loves go into the West End. Time And Time Again has just finished at the Comedy and last year's offering at Scarborough Absurd Person Singular, opens at the Criterion next month. Mr Ayckbourn clearly finds traditional boulevard comedy less than totally demanding. His material shows the usual preoccupation with middle-class marital embarrassments although the writing is upbeat and flip, with more than usual social awareness and psychological perception. But his real talent lies in the ingenuity with which he revitalises conventional dramatic forms.
This year he's written three plays. They all deal with the same fraught family weekend, but each takes its slice of action from a different part of the house. So the first play, which opened this week, stays in the dining room. And as the characters come on and off they are walking into the plots of Make Yourself At Home, which opens next Monday and happens in the living-room, or Round And Round The Garden, which comes into the repertory next month. Each play is complete in itself and they can be seen in any order.
So Fancy Meeting You is inevitably a bit like one of those paragraphs headed, "New Readers Begin Here;" There's dumpy, frowsy Annie (Rosalind Adams) left at home looking after Mum while her bluff brother Reg (Stanley Page) and chilly sister Ruth (Janet Dale) have gone off to marry a highly-strung Sarah (Alex Marshall) and a passionately romantic Norman (Christopher Godwin) respectively, Norman invites Annie - who you will realise is his sister-in-law - to a dirty weekend in East Grinstead; and now read on. Amazingly, it works. The whole company plays with a deliciously restrained degree of zest, particularly during a disastrously high-pitched meal, or rather a row round the dining table, which is typically Ayckbourn. If the play seemed sometimes slow and eventually overlong, that's what the Scarborough season is there to find out."
(The Guardian, 20 June 1973)
"Alan Ayckbourn, so far as I know, has never claimed that his plays - at least, those which first see the light of day at Scarborough - are anything more than enjoyable comedies. An Ayckbourn evening is characteristically one of simple pleasure, unfettered by brow-wrinkling "messages" or the sort of inner meaning other playwrights like to think their work possesses.
The idea of three separate plays taking as their theme the action of a single week-end, seen from various parts of a large house, is an ingenious one, Fancy Meeting You, the first of these, views the week-end as seen in the dining-room, into which a varied collection of very recognisable characters erupt.
As with all Ayckbourn plays it is funny, fast, and entertaining,
The six characters are well-observed. You and I both know people just like them. Perhaps this is the secret of Ayckbourn's success.
There is little to criticise in the acting. Stanley Page, as the determinedly-cheerful husband of a prissy, self-centred wife, was excellent. Alex Marshall, the wife in question, was just like hundreds of women who use child-bearing as a passport to conspicuous suffering. Christopher Godwin, as the pathetically philandering husband, and Janet Dale, his hard-as-nails, careerist wife, both turned in faultless performances.
Ronald Herdman, as the grotesque but appealing twit, Tom, got more laughs, and perhaps more sympathy, than anybody else in the cast. He deserved it. But my favourite was Rosalind Adams, whose portrayal of the drab unmarried sister who everybody uses, was intensely skilled.
The only flaw in the play itself seemed to me to be the ending, of which, though it was predictable, somehow clashed with the mood of the rest of the evening. I felt Ayckbourn was digging a little too deep into his characters. A joke's a joke, and, for the audiences the Library Theatre attracts, shouldn't be taken too far. Sad though it may be to admit it, they don't want to be made to think.
By the way, two instances of audience reaction earned my intense gratitude. One was the fact that, when poor, goaded Tom finally gave his tormentor a clout, the audience cheered. The other was the gasp which greeted one of the female character's use of a very mild obscenity."
(Scarborough Evening News, 23 June 1973)
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.