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Ayckbourn’s Conquest receives Old Vic revival

First Published 20 May 2008, Last Updated 20 May 2008

The Old Vic will be transformed this autumn when it stages the first London revival of Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy tryptich The Norman Conquests.

The historical proscenium arch theatre will morph into an intimate theatre-in-the-round space, recreating the design that the plays were originally written for.

Television comedy faces Stephen Mangan and Jessica Hynes star alongside Amelia Bullmore and Paul Ritter in the production directed by Matthew Warchus.

The Norman Conquests comprises the plays Table Manners, Living Together and Round And Round The Garden, which can be seen as separate pieces or as a collection of plays, as they concern the same six characters and their actions at an English country house between a Saturday evening and a Monday morning. Central to each play is the eponymous Norman, a man who believes it is his mission in life to make women happy by showering them with love, whether they be his wife, his sister-in-law or his brother-in-law’s wife.

Written in the space of a week, The Norman Conquests premiered in Scarborough in 1973, making their London debut the following year with a cast including Tom Courtenay, who played Norman, Michael Gambon, Felicity Kendal, Penelope Keith and Penelope Wilton.

This time around Norman is to be played by Mangan, who is most easily recognised as Dr Guillame Secretan from quirky hospital comedy Green Wing. Mangan’s film credits include Festival and Confetti, while on stage he has appeared in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, School For Scandal (all RSC), Noises Off (Piccadilly) and The People Are Friendly (Royal Court).

The multi-talented Hynes both co-wrote and starred in two series of the cult Channel 4 comedy hit Spaced and has film credits including Shaun Of The Dead and current hit Son Of Rambow. Her theatre performances include The Plough And The Stars and Fiddler On The Roof, both directed by Warchus at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, and Jez Butterworth’s The Night Heron, a performance which saw her nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award in 2003.

Ritter appeared alongside Hynes in both The Night Heron at the Royal Court and in Son Of Rambow. A regular on the London stage, Ritter has worked extensively with the National Theatre on productions including The Hothouse, Royal Hunt Of The Sun, Coram Boy and The Coast Of Utopia. His last Old Vic appearance came in 1997’s Snake In The Grass.

Bullmore, known to many as Coronation Street’s Stephanie Barnes, boasts stage credits including the Royal Court productions of The Thickness Of Skin, Road and The Queen And I, and Inadmissible Evidence at the National.

This is the second time in recent years that director Warchus has presided over the transformation of a theatre, following his work with The Lord Of The Rings, which saw Drury Lane engulfed by Tolkien’s Middle Earth. He has also enjoyed London success with God Of Carnage (Gielgud) and Old Vic production Speed-The-Plow, and was recently nominated for a Tony Award for the Broadway transfer of Boeing Boeing, originally staged at the Comedy in 2007.

Ayckbourn, who has written more than 70 plays, is, like Warchus, enjoying a successful time on the London stage. In addition to this revival of The Norman Conquests, his 1972 comedy Absurd Person Singular was revived at the Garrick at the end of 2007.

Currently playing at the Old Vic is the Peter Hall Company production of Pygmalion starring Tim Pigott-Smith and Michelle Dockery. Having opened last week, it runs until 2 August.

MA

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