Philip Cumbus and Loura Howard in a scene from The Norman Conquests. Photograph by Jonathon Keenan.

L.S. Media Rating ****

Cast: Oliver Birch, Philip Cumbus, Tom Davey, Laura Howard, Emily Pithon, Sarah Tansey.

Liverpool audiences have had to wait for quite a while for an Alan Ayckbourn play to come to the city and then like the proverbial bus, three come along at once.

The special and almost unique thing with The Norman Conquests is that it is not just one show but three specially crafted, incredibly well directed and lovingly bought to life plays that demand more attention for their ample moments of generous laughter that Alan Ayckbourn insists must be within all his plays, even when the subject matter is dour, there is always room for laughter.

The Norman Conquests has all of that, and for the audiences who took the chance to watch the trilogy of plays in their entirety performed on the one day, they were not to be disappointed. Starting at 11 am may seem like an odd time to go to the theatre; the yard arm hasn’t passed over the sun’s midday shadow and people’s minds may be more on the day to day business of their lives. However to appreciate Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round The Garden is to see them one after another and hang the consequences of a misplaced day. In this production, the cast alone will make it worth the while of missing out on yet another shopping trip.

With a lot of Ayckbourn’s plays, the cast is just as important as the writing. It’s impossible to think of Improbable Fiction without Laura Doddington, Derek Fowlds in Between Mouthfuls, Season’s Greeting’s without Philip Bretherton and The Norman Conquests without any member of the is excellent and courageous cast. The ring master within all of the mayhem and confusion was the outrageously good Philip Cumbus who captured the spirit of Tom Courtney’s ghost like figure that strides across this behemoth of late 20th century theatre and made the part, if not quite his own, then enough to look Tom Courtney in the eye and say I nailed it.

This would not have been achieved without any of the other actors who made up this strong troupe, especially with objects of Norman’s affections, the women. Alan Ayckbourn proves time and time again that not only can he write fantastic parts for female actors but that he seems to enjoy the process. In the wonderful Laura Howard as Annie, Sarah Tansey as Sarah and the fantastic Emily Pithon as Norman’s strong and accommodating wife Ruth, the Casting Director, Kay Magson, got the exact qualities for each of the parts smack on.

The Norman Conquests are superb theatre, the set design novel and dynamic, the cast exactly right and directed with outstanding skill and determination by Philip Wilson, one of the great theatre comedies of the last 50 years.

Ian D. Hall