Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Review: Round and Round the Garden

Norman is the beating heart - in all senses - of Round and Round The Garden at the Mill At Sonning. This is Alan Ayckbourn writing from the peak of his powers in the early 70s.

Round And Round The Garden
Mill At Sonning
Thurs Oct 2

Norman puts it about: he's a player, a seducer and he doesn't care too much who he entraps along the way. All this while being overweight, a monument to slobbishness and dressed to shame a tramp.

Norman is the beating heart - in all senses - of Round and Round The Garden at the Mill At Sonning. This is Alan Ayckbourn writing from the peak of his powers in the early 70s.

Ayckbourn has created the most unlikely of antiheroes in Norman, a loser in every sense, a physical turnoff and a man in middle age who still aspires to no more than assistant librarian. Yet we are asked to believe that this shrunken specimen appeals to the ladies. It works because James Wallace's Norman is unrelenting and unapologetic.

And it's not just about Norman, it's about loneliness and how people will reach out to anyone who seems to care. Nelly Harker's Annie and Chris Porter's Tom bring this out. Then there is the loneliness within a marriage which Harry Gostellow's Reg and Susannah Harker's Sarah show in all their resignation. The two Harkers, by the way, are sisters in real life.

The only one to have any sense of security is, bizarrely, Norman's wife Ruth. She is unconcerned about his actions, but then she has him and for all his faults he doesn't ignore her.

We open with a tentative middle class scene as two diffident people dance around each other, unable to commit to their own feelings. In walks bearded Norman in a scruffy grey beany, Mackintosh and T-shirt. He is unkempt and probably unwashed and yet he has somehow stolen the heart of the woman who is his wife's sister.

And while everyone else is emotionally constipated, Norman is emotionally incontinent. He makes declarations of desperate passionate love, he moons about, he is ridiculous. And he doesn't stop with his sister-in-law, he has a crack at his brother-in-law's wife as well - with some success.

Of course his wife turns up and appears to be indifferent to his philandering in a sophisticated metropolitan way. Sometimes this play is a farce, but most of the time it's an exploration of how the artificial moral behaviour of the middle classes can be upended by someone who just doesn't seem to care.

Aykbourn has always been excellent in his analysis of the outward appearance of middle class manners while showing the seething snakebag of emotions they conceal.

Abigail Anderson's topnotch cast brings out all the subtlety in the script and also the sledgehammer Ayckbourn uses to destroy that finesse. It's a great play and deserves what it gets here: a sensitive, spirited interpretation full of physicality and joyful contradictions.

Very good cast, very good play, very good direction: success pretty much guaranteed.

Until November 21.

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