Norman gets set to Conquer essendon theatre company.

Sarah and Annie and Norman and Ruth, and also Reg, who is married to Sarah, and Tom, who is inexplicably there, gather during one weekend in the dining room of Annie’s country house in Sussex, England.Sarah and Annie are desperately seeking love and attention, and Norman is right there to provide it. So what if Norman is married to Ruth, who is Annie’s sister? Such is the tangled web of Table Manners – the third of three  interlocking plays known as The Norman Conquests – as will be seen later next month at essendon theatre company.  All penned by Alan Ayckbourn, the prolific English playwright with a sublime talent for extracting truth and hilarity from miserable characters trapped in wretched relationships.
I spoke with Director Tess Maurici Ryan about her long standing relationship with Ayckbourn’s writing as well as her choices about staging and casting.
It has been said that you are a fan of the work of Alan Ayckbourn. Is this a fair assessment and what is it about his plays that attracts you?
Yes, admittedly, I am an Ayckbourn fan.  I have previously directed 2 of his other plays, Relatively Speaking and Absurd Person Singular.

The fantastic thing about his writing is that he takes these middle-of-the-road, very ordinary characters; house wives, office workers, retirees and with his mind for comedy and simplicity, manages to write very funny AND clever shows about, a weekend at home or a dinner party; events that audiences all over the world can relate to.

The  thing I love most about Ayckbourn’s style of play are the subtleties and the finer details that he manages to work into his characters without making them too farcical or over the top.  

What in particular drew you to Table Manners?

About 18 months ago I found The Norman Conquests script in a dressing room bookshelf and began to read it.  I was immediately impressed with the entire trilogy, Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden.  I knew straight away that this is something that I wanted to create.  But what a feat!?  I had all these questions running through my mind; Has it been done before?  Would people come to see a 6 hour show?  Would we split up the plays over several night?  How long a rehearsal would I need to produce 3 full length plays?  

It was then that I remembered Ayckbourn mention in his prologue, that each play had been written so it could be performed and appreciated on it’s own and (for me) Table Manners seemed to be the best choice. I found that it best established and introduced the characters to the audience, without giving away to much of what is to come.
The play is, of course, a part of the trilogy known collectively as The Norman Conquests. Much of the success of the plays rests on finding an actor who is able to portray a convincing Norman. How difficult was it to find your Norman?
I have to say, I was really, really fortunate when it came to the audition process, because I was spoilt for choice when casting  ALL the characters.  However, that being said it was quite obvious to me that Norman was made for an actor like James Antonas.  From our very first rehearsal , James seems to have slipped very easily (and comfortably) into Norman’s shoes making the rehearsals full of laughs and enjoyable for everyone.

Even though the play is quite straight forward with regards to production values, have you found any challenges thus far?

Yes – the play (on it’s own) is quite straight forward.  However, the biggest challenge that I have created for myself is that I’ve decided to stage it ‘in the round’.   Never having ever performed or directed in this forum before, it has made it challenging and  very interesting.
The main challenge for me (and for the actors) has been trying to forget about a lot of their stage craft techniques and feeling free to move and work the space without being too conscious of having their back to audience.   Audience will see the back of actors at times – this is the nature of this style  – however, the challenge for me is to try and balance out the direction with blocking –  to ensure the audience all get a fairly even perspective throughout the show.
You are an actor as well as a director. Do you believe your acting experiences have helped make you a better director? Why?

I most definitely believe that my acting experience has helped me be a better director.  I don’t think I would have ever considered directing actors, had I not already had a working knowledge of stage and performance.  Over the years, having performed in many plays and working with many directors (who each have their own style), I have drawn, knowledge, techniques and inspiration from all these people.  Even when I’m not performing or directing, I try to volunteer to be part of production teams (whatever the capacity) for this very reason. All of this has given me a great platform to stand on, giving me the confidence to direct.  

What would be the one thing that you hope audiences take away with them after viewing your production of Table manners?

I basically want the audience to leave smiling – with a feeling that they’ve seen a great, funny, clever, well-rounded show.  

What is next for you?

Next year – I’d like to take a break from directing and maybe audition for some shows and get back to acting….we’ll see!!
essendon theatre company is proud to present Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn as directed by Tess Maurici Ryan.
Theatre: Bradshaw Street Community Hall Bradshaw Street (off Buckley Street) West Essendon Melways 28B3
Performances: November 25th,26th,27th @8:00pm, November 28th Sunday @2:00pm Matinee, December 2nd,3rd,4th @8:00pm
Prices: All Evening Performances $15 per ticket All Matinee Performances $12. per ticket
Bookings: Eileen – 9330 4808 or [email protected]