The highlight is a dinner that allows the simmering tensions to explode, despite initial promises from all parties that they will guarantee to maintain the peace.
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 this 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 actor James Antonas about Norman and his conquests – both present and future.
I can indeed, however, instead of talking, I’ll use my fingers on this keyboard and write via my brain. Get a cast of six people together, varying sexes and ages, and you’re bound for trouble. Ego clashes, temper tantrums, inappropriate massages…the whole caboodle…and this play has been no exception. Everywhere one turns there is someone in tears, hysterics, conniptions, labour…it is a never ending cycle of self-absorption…an actor’s main characteristic. Sure, some will claim they’re ‘getting into character’ or ‘finding the truth’ but honestly…they are contemplating their most flattering angle and how they can get more stage time. Bless their cotton socks…we are a needy people…craving acceptance from disapproving parents, needing validation and critical praise from their public, wanting money from friends for tickets that were pre-booked, but once we’re on stage…God help us…it’s even more about us. But seriously, it’s been interesting from the get go. Doing the show in the round has made us all rethink how we work on stage, how we use our body and getting the right projection so four different sides of an audience can hear you muttering. Plus, having to create a family dynamic with complete strangers. Six characters, all with an existing relationship with each other that needs to be divulged in a manner of seconds of interacting with them. Are they brother and sister? Do they even like each other? Do they even love each other? It’s all key…and Tess has managed to bring that out of us, bit by bit, character by character.
While Ayckbourn has written fairly stock characters there is still a certain amount of emotional poignancy achieved between the warring partners. As an actor, how do you find this emotional truth amongst the comedy?
As an actor again, is your preference for the dramatic or comedic genre? Why?
I’d say I’m still finding my feet in both genres. I know, I know…others will say ‘James, you fool, you are a born clown. A wit. You make us laugh until we stop, and then we think about what just happened and laugh again, but not as strongly as we did the first time, more a pleased chuckle, but the humour is still there. It’s always there James, don’t ever forget that.’ And my girlfriend is always telling me I’m over-dramatic…so maybe I can reside in both worlds…like that guy in Quantum Leap or Goodnight, Sweetheart…gee, they were great shows. But I enjoy making people laugh and I enjoy making people…usually out of clay.
What is your next project?
Prices: All Evening Performances $15 per ticket All Matinee Performances $12. per ticket