Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

cast in rehersal

Rehearsed mayhem: Beth Flint as Annie and Ros Davies as Sarah watch on as Shaun Dodd as Tom and Jon Richardson as Reg deal with the somehwhat dandelion wine soaked Al McCaughey as Norman

Living Together

Hall Green Little Theatre


When Annie takes a leaf out of George Gershwin’s songbook and calls the whole thing off it leaves assistant librarian Norman on a rather empty shelf, so to speak, for his planned weekend of horizontal adventure in that epicentre of debauchery . . . East Grinstead.

Norman, who you suspect has had more mistresses than your average girls prep school, is left at a loose end and with an even looser bottle of dandelion wine which leads to him being as tired and emotional as . . . a newt.

Annie, lives at home looking after her unseen aging, demanding, hypochondriac mother and her brother Reg and wife Sarah have come to stay so Annie can get away for the weekend for . . . let’s just call it bed rest.

Annie’s change of mind changes much more though as Norman with no fictitious conference to attend (his excuse for the awayday weekend)  hangs around being . . . well . . . rather obstreperous, at least until his alcoholic stupor when he just becomes a sort of ornamental lump that snorts occasionally.

Annie’s supposed partner is . . . errrm . . . Tom, a vet with all the charisma of an anaesthetised gerbil who is under the impression that Annie’s weekend away was in fact with him and she has decided not to go because of something he had done.

This was unlikely as it appears Tom is not renowned for actually doing anything, indeed for a vet he seems to know very little about either birds or bees.

Meanwhile Reg and Sarah are a happily . . . are a married couple who are no longer needed for mother sitting duty so are enjoying (?) a family weekend get together. Sarah, you suspect, endures Reg rather than adores him, marriage having become a habit rather than an adventure, while Reg’s hobby, or rather obsession, is the stream of remarkably complicated board games he invents. His latest being a sort of cops and robbers affair he wants to try out (inflict) on the assembled guests.

Meanwhile Norman, brain functioning once more on a primitive level, contacts wife Ruth, and to cut a long, and slurred story short, Ruth, who happens to be Sarah’s sister arrives to add to . . . whatever.

So, we have three couples in a rambling house with a cat up a tree (I don’t know so don’t ask), a lover’s, or lustful (take your pick) tryst aborted, a rug with R18-rated tales to tell and . . . you really do need to see it.

Ros Davies has a way of commanding the stage and she brings Sarah to life as the jolly bustling wife – at least until the gloves come off in an altercation with sister-in-law Annie.

Beth Flint gives us an Annie who seems a little lost. Her dalliance with Norman offered excitement, adventure even but, ultimately perhaps, emptiness. Her feelings, it seems, are really for Tom creeping along in a relationship that makes glaciers seem speedy.


Zofja Zolna as Norman's not so much understanding as barely tolerating wife Ruth

Tom, meanwhile, is played with . . . errrm . . . studied hesitancy by Shaun Dodd with almost a congenital condition of being unable to commit to anything, even whether he wants black or white coffee. He might know cats, apart from the one up the tree, and dogs, but his knowledge of women and relationships is, should we say . . .  errrm . . . close to non-existent.

The same can’t be said of Norman whose knowledge of women, especially those with a less than satisfying relationship, is second to none. Al McCaughey gives us a remarkably unlikeable Norman, loud, awkward, sneering, with wisecracks that are neither wise nor craic and smooth as a poor man’s lounge lizard when it comes to sweet talking the ladies. A nicely balanced performance and a good depiction of being drunk, which avoids the trap of looking like a man pretending to be drunk.

His wife Ruth is confidently played by Zofja Zolna. She has got Norman’s number and reads him like one of his books, she might succumb to his charms at times, but you suspect she is never fooled by them. He might not know it but she is the one really in control. His only victory seems to have been his proposal of marriage in a crowded lift: “The first time I wanted to throttle him”, according to Ruth as if it was the first of many, many – and they say romance is dead.

And that leaves us with Reg, who we might say is three squares to the left and four behind in this real life board game being played out around him. Indeed, while the drama is raging about him Reg, played with a sort of unworldly air by Jon Richardson, is working to adapt the rules of his board game so he can play it on his own. Sad hardly covers it.

Reg is an observer, a commentator on the human condition, except he never actually sees, or perhaps never comprehends what is really going on.

We have adultery – which is more a loan arrangement according to librarian Norman - another rug episode – that rug really does need cleaning by now – blazing rows, a walk out, and all with Reg pontificating about life and relationships in general. Only at the last moment as the curtain closes does his brain finally pass Go and realise what is really going on!

This is the second play in Alan Ayckbourn’s Norman Conquest trilogy, which had its premiere 50 years ago last month, not that it has dated, relationships and their foibles haven’t changed much since the serpent first met Eve.

Ayckbourn has taken an ordinary situation involving characters we may even recognise, and added layers of complication, cleverly keeping everything well within the bounds of possibility, possibilities laced with laughs because, as they say, “there’s nowt so funny as t’folk”.

The result a gentle comedy, beautifully acted by a fine cast on a simple and convincing living room set designed by Jon Richardson and director Steve Fisher. A lovely night of undemanding theatre.

Our couples will be living together in one way or another to 22-07-23.

Roger Clarke



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