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The Norman Conquests by Alan Ayckbourn: Review

Updated on June 10, 2015
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The Norman Conquests - more British television humor

This delightful trilogy was shown on television in the UK back in 1977. I loved it and over the years have told many people about it. The problem was though, that for a long time, it was unavailable. But it is now, on DVD, and it's wonderful to see this Alan Ayckbourn treat again.

Award winning performances from honored actors

As you know, Alan Ayckbourn is a celebrated playwright who was awarded a C.B.E. by Her Majesty the Queen. Most of the actors in this series of plays have been similarly honored. Combine this with wonderful characterization, witty dialog and a splendid plot and it's hardly surprising that The Norman Conquests won numerous awards.

Beloved actors

You might remember Penelope Keith and Richard Briers from The Good Life (it was renamed Good Neighbors in the USA). Add the wonderful Tom Conti (oh, that deep and sexy voice of his!), Penelope Wilton (remember her in Calendar Girls?), David Troughton (the son of the second Doctor Who, incidentally) and Fiona Walker and this is surely a recipe for a fabulous treat.

A word about the characters

Now you know about the stature of the actors, let me tell you about the six characters. Even just listing them shows the complexity and fun.

  • Sarah - if you remember Margot from The Good Life, then you'll have some idea what this character is like
  • Reg - her rather daft but jolly husband. Their marriage is rather rocky, shall we say
  • Annie - Reg's unmarried sister who looks after their bed-ridden mother
  • Tom - Annie's humorless and rather dopey veterinarian neighbor
  • Ruth - Reg and Annie's somewhat plain and snooty sister
  • Norman - Ruth's husband who has had a fling with sister-in-law Annie 'on the brown nylon fur rug in the lounge' - which, incidentally,is such a lovely quote. See the video below

About the Norman Conquests

You can see from the character list some of the situations we have here. Snobby Sarah wants Tom to make a move on Annie. Sarah would approve of a veterinarian as a brother-in-law. But the cat amongst the pigeons is Norman...

This is a trilogy of three plays, each with the six characters described above. It is English humour at its best.

A sample scene

See a sample video

Sarah and her husband Reg have come to the family home. This is because Annie is going away for a weekend so they will be looking after the bedridden mother. She is her mother's only caregiver so Sarah and Reg decide to give her a break.

Sarah, as you will see,is played my the amazingly funny Penelope Keith. She must surely be one of the funniest British actresses.

In the previous scene, Sarah has expressed to strong hope that Annie is going for a dirty weekend with Tom. She really thinks that because he is a veterinarian, that's almost as good as being a doctor -important in Sarah's snooty and snobby scheme of things.

As the two sisters-in-law discuss this, Annie reveals that yes, she is going away (to East Grinstead) with a man but it's not Tom ... it's her brother-in-law, Norman.

For Penelope Keith fans

To the Manor Born: The Complete Collection (Silver Anniversary Edition)
To the Manor Born: The Complete Collection (Silver Anniversary Edition)

If you haven't seen this, you're in for a treat. In this show, she plays the part of a posh - but penniless - widow. She has to sell the ancestral home and its new owner, although dashing and rich - infuriates her. She has to move to a cottage in the grounds, whilst he occupies her old home. He has plans though. Will they or won't they?

 

One of the wonderful surprises for me when was able to watch this trilogy again, was the superb actress, Fiona Walker. Albeit with an absolutely dreadful haircut,she plays the part of Norman's long-suffering wife.

Although 'long-suffering' isn't quite the right description.

Determined to create the maximum chaos for the dreaded Norman, Sarah (Penelope Keith) called Ruth and told her that she must come to the houseparty. She did not explain why, however.

I absolutely love this scene. Ruth, whois terribly short-sighted, is so funny. Norman is like a little boy with a secret - trying to get a reaction from his wife as he slowly reveals his affair with her sister.

Ruth, unperturbed, just continues eating her Puffa Puffa Rice breakfast cereal...

© 2013 Jackie Jackson

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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @sousababy: I think you'd love this one, Rose. Thanks for dropping by!

    • sousababy profile image

      sousababy 4 years ago

      You certainly have a wealth of knowledge about hilarious British shows (I'm sorry, I have never seen this one here in Canada). Good thing it's available on DVD.

    • BritFlorida profile image
      Author

      Jackie Jackson 4 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      @Margaret Schindel: It was such a strong memory and discovering that it was available on DVD was fantastic. As you say, the cast is quite incredible.

    • Margaret Schindel profile image

      Margaret Schindel 4 years ago from Massachusetts

      There's no playwright guaranteed to give you more genuinely witty laughs per minute than Alan Ayckbourn. I've seen many of his wonderful plays on stage, but never knew about this televised version until now. And what a cast!!! LOVED the video clip. This sounds like a must-see. Thanks so much for sharing!

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