British Players Round and Round the GardenBy Bob Ashby • Apr 4th, 2011 • Category: Reviews
Kensington Town Hall, Kensington, MD
Through April 17th
2:00, with one intermission
Reviewed April 1st, 2011
Round and Round the Garden, the current British Players’ production, is part of playwright Alan Ayckbourn’s interlocking trilogy, The Norman Conquests. The play and its companion pieces, Living Together and Table Manners, are all set in the same house during the same July weekend in the 1970s and involve the same six characters. The plays are farces of human folly and chronic misunderstanding, rather than of the exquisitely timed opening and closing of doors, in the manner of Noises Off.
All the action takes place in the garden of the country house where, through accident and design, the characters gather. As the play begins, Annie, who lives in the house as a caretaker for her elderly and difficult offstage mother, is planning to leave for a weekend assignation with Norman, who spoils the timing of the plan by arriving early. Tom, a local veterinarian who understands animals considerably better than people, also has a long-standing, largely unexpressed, yearning for Annie. Reg, Annie’s brother, and his wife Sarah, arrive. So, in Act 2, does Ruth, Norman’s wife and, not incidentally, Annie’s sister. Complications ensue, to the tune of delicious Ayckbourn situations and lines.
The production features top-notch acting from a number of the cast. If there is an award somewhere for virtuoso listening, Eileen Kent, as Sarah, Reg’s domineering wife, deserves it for her attentiveness and totally in-character reactions to a lengthy first act monologue by Norman. Paul Noga, as Reg, believably maintains a chipper façade in the face of his wife’s nonstop assaults on his dignity. As Tom, Peter Harrold inhabits to perfection the skin of the dim and utterly, hopelessly, clueless vet. Chrish Kresge’s Ruth, the most intelligent and bitterest character in the play, has fine timing to go with a credible portrayal of the emotions of a wife who has long put up with a cheerfully philandering husband. An exchange in which Tom disastrously misconstrues Ruth’s attempt to rouse him from his usual emotional fog is the comic highlight of the evening.
Of all the characters, Annie, played by Sonia Motlagh, most acutely realizes that her life is one of quiet desperation. Not Norman’s seductiveness, nor Tom’s belated statement of his affection, can convince her that she has a chance for happiness. The one relatively weak link in the group is John Allnutt as Norman. Allnutt can be very funny at times, and certainly nails the sheepdog aspect of Norman’s character (aptly so described by Ruth) as he comically flails about the stage, but what is missing is the touch of charisma, the bit of sexual magnetism, that lets us understand why Annie and Sarah find him attractive and why Ruth, despite her unsparing appraisal of her wandering husband, has not thrown him out years ago.
The well-designed garden in this one-set production is as unkempt in its details –meandering vines, unclipped bushes, attack brambles — as are the lives of the characters it reflects. Lighting is unobtrusive and nicely sets off the time and mood of the scenes. The costumes are well suited to the characters. Among the men, for example, Reg is natty while Tom is disheveled.
Director Pauline Griller-Mitchell gets good, tight ensemble playing from her cast and maintains an appropriate pace. The show is not based on extensive physical comedy, but the lame tennis ball game that turns seamlessly into a seduction is beautifully realized. Some commentators have likened The Norman Conquests to the Chekhov of The Cherry Orchard and Three Sisters: that more melancholy reading of the play is not emphasized in this highly amusing production, though the isolation of the characters from one another is evident. Still, their relationships, as convoluted and dysfunctional as they may be, are what these characters have and, as Sarah comments, they will probably all be together again at Christmas.
In Memory of Margaret (Peggy) McGrath December 11, 1941-August 10, 2003
Welcome to the British Players’ production of Round and Round the Garden by Alan Ayckbourn. I am delighted to finally direct this show, as it has always been one of my favourite British comedians/farces. I first encountered the play in 1985 when it was directed and produced by Peggy McGrath to whom I dedicate this production. Most of our audience members will not know Peggy’s name but she was a long-standing member of the Players, she was a member of the Committee and directed, produced, designed lights, and appeared in several productions for the group. Peggy was a mentor to me in my early days with the Players. Sadly she passed away in 2003 after a long battle with multiple sclerosis-she is often in my thoughts.
I actually stage-managed the show in 1985 for the then British Embassy Players, when the Players were still performing in the British Embassy. Round and Round the Garden is one of three plays in The Norman Conquests trilogy. I hope you find our Assistant Director Sara Kane’s notes interesting and helpful as you follow the crazy antics taking place in front of you.
This is a show that has no deep hidden meanings, no motivations, (except perhaps on the part of Norman!!), no dramatic interludes; it is just pure sheer fun and I hope is guaranteed to have audience members rolling in the aisles at the funny situations in which the cast find themselves during their weekend in the country. This is escapism from the real world all around us outside of the Kensington Hall, from which, for many of us there is no escape on a daily basis.
In closing, I would like to thank the Board for once again entrusting a show to me, the amazing cast and wonderful production team, all of whom have worked so hard during the last two months to bring this production to you. Finally please come to see Puss in Boots, a traditional British pantomime, which I am directing for the Players later this year.
– Pauline Griller-Mitchell
Assistant Director’s Notes
Round and Round the Garden is the third part of Alan Ayckbourn’s comic trilogy, The Norman Conquests, completed in 1973. (The other two are Table Manners and Living Together.) The three plays involve the same six characters and take place more or less simultaneously over a single weekend. Round and Round the Garden may be thought of as “the beginning and the end of the cycle,” as Ayckbourn observes, but each play is self-contained and may be seen in any order.
The premise of the plays is the same as in traditional farce: two characters who are not married to each other plan to have an affair, thus flying in the face of social, moral, and legal conventions. The action of the play follows the various attempts of other characters – spouses, friends, relatives – to abet or thwart the would-be lovers and is almost totally plot driven. By the final curtain, all the loose ends are tied up and the social and moral order re-established.
The Normal Conquests begins with the same premise – Norman and Annie, who are not married to each other – plan a dirty weekend, while the other four characters plot for or against them. But this is where the similarity to farce ends: the “dirty weekend” is only a device to bring these six characters together, and unlike traditional farce, the action is character-driven. All the characters are so self-absorbed and so blind to the motivations and emotional needs of the others that they seem to be speaking different languages – making them easy prey to a gadfly like Norman. The humour comes not so much from the situation, but from the characters reactions and misreading of it, and the total lack of communication among them. Even the physical comedy, like Reg’s game of catch, depends for laughs on misdirection, rather than pratfalls.
Also, unlike traditional farce, Round and Round the Garden does not end with all loose ends neatly tied up and the moral and social order restored. Who knows: next weekend, these characters could still be running around in circles with no end in sight.
– Sara Kane
- Annie: Sonia Motlagh
- Tom: Peter Harrold
- Norman: John Allnutt
- Reg: Paul Noga
- Sarah: Eileen Kent
- Ruth: Chrish Kresge
- Director: Pauline Griller-Mitchell
- Producer: Sigrid Blobel
- Stage Manager: Rob Allen
- Assistant Director: Sara Kane
- Set Design: Anna Britton
- Master Carpenter: Mike Lewis
- Lighting Design: Ed Eggleston
- Lighting Operator: Mike Lewis
- Costume Coordinator: Joan Roseboom
- Master Electrician: Ed Eggleston
- Sound Design: Nick Sampson
- Back Stage Crew: Sigrid Blobel, Sara Kane, Jenna Sutton
- Set Dressing: Lois Britton
- Lobby Display: Mary Rigney, Joan Roseboom
- Set Construction and Painting: Anna Britton, Lois Britton, Albert Coia, Ed Egggleston, Mike Lewis, Jenna Sutton
- Audition Desk: Margaret Lane, Joan Roseboom
- Front of House Coordinators: John Barclay Burns, Susan Frampton, Margaret Lane
- Publicity and Public Relations: Madge Darnielle, Sue Edwards, Susan Frampton, Kim Newball
- Programme: Sigrid Blobel, Sue Edwards, Kim Newball, J. Andrew Simmons
- Design: J. Andrew Simmons
- Photography: Harvey Levine
- Box Office Manager: Frankie Lewis
- Business Manager: Gary Beaver
- Front of House Staff: Lloyd Bowling, Dave Bradley, Madge Darneille, Mirjana Djordjevic, David Esterson, Cathi Gale, Alan Gleb, Caroline Gelb, Adriana Hardy, Nicola Hoag, Michael Kharfen, Syril Klinem, Dan Mitchell, Peter Nerenstone, Kim Newball, Al Noerling, Elspeth Nunn, Susan Paisner, Clare Palace, Jayn Rife, Mary Rigney, Joan Roseboom, Ann Scherer, Cheryl Sinsabaugh, Michael Sinsaaugh, Maggie Skekel-Sledge, Carol Strachan, Ted Woodcock
Disclaimer: British Players provided two complimentary media tickets to ShowBizRadio for this review.
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Bob Ashby has been an active participant in the Washington-area community theater scene since his arrival in town in 1975.