Round & Round the Garden

(The Norman Conquests)
By Alan Ayckbourn
In tandem with Living Together Haymarket Theatre, Basingstoke,
(2004)

For all Alan Ayckbourn's assurance that each play in the Norman Conquests trilogy stands alone, I remained unable to detach any of them when viewing them in chronological order.

Thanks, then, to Kate Dove's delightful production for Basingstoke Haymarket of Round & Round the Garden, which, for reasons unimportant here, I was obliged to see before its partner production, Living Together.

Suddenly, the al fresco doings of this loosely knit family become a story in themselves. Now only dimly aware of what happens before/between/after in dining or sitting rooms, I can concentrate totally on the (mostly) futile behaviour of these sad, and sadly too familiar, people on the fading terrace.

In the first place, to sit in quiet contemplation of Elroy Ashmore's loving reconstruction of the garden at the suburban home which exercised such influence on all these characters, is itself a joy. Neglected baskets, shears dropped into an empty pot, leaves gathering on the glazed canopy, with such detail we get a clear impression of priorities.

Those of a practical bent can even work out the location of toilet facilities inside and which bedrooms have a washbasin!

As for the characters themselves, I fancy using garden scenes as first 'yardstick', so to speak, is to gain a very different impression than that drawn from the two alternatives. Or perhaps not. However, Annie takes centre stage from her first appearance on the terrace, beautifully drawn by Catrin Aaron, her vulnerabilty revealed as though she were naked!

Tom the cat pursuing vet is a bag of nervous indecision in the hands of Anthony Washington while Reg blusters pointlessly in an excellent performance by Alan Blyton. His wife, the immaculate Sarah is well-meaningly ineffectual thanks to Alison McKenna - but what else could she be with a husband like that?

Reg's sister, Ruth (Caron Pascoe) does not convince me she really needs glasses (is that because the actor does?). Otherwise, she is the epitome of what a woman would have to be to put up with Norman. Which leaves me with the man himself, in this production beautifully irritating, thanks to the bearded Peter Hamilton Dyer. I wouldn't trust him an inch!

"Round and Round the Garden" runs until 20th June

Reviewer: Kevin Catchpole