By Joseph Kerr
Wednesday, January 30, 2013
TABLE Manners, by Alan Ayckbourn, played at the Barn Theatre in Welwyn Garden City earlier this month. Joseph Kerr reviews the production.
ALAN Ayckbourn is the country’s most popular living playwright, performed more often than anyone other than Shakespeare.
Table Manners, surely one of his best plays, demonstrates why: it is achingly funny about people whose lives, should we stop laughing long enough to think about it, are at times achingly sad.
It show us what happens over a weekend in the country, when the drunken assistant librarian Norman tries unsuccessfully to seduce his two sisters-in-law under the very nose of his long-suffering wife.
It might sound like a French farce, but the genius of Ayckbourn lies in the utter believability both of the characters concerned and the situations in which they find themselves.
This production, under the sure-footed direction of Coral Walton, is the best I have seen at the Barn since Jerusalem last year.
It is of course technically excellent: sound, lighting and set as first class as one has come to expect of our local theatre.
What makes it so special though is the standard of the acting, with first class performances from Barn regulars Mel Powell as Reg; Chris White as the hapless vet Tom; Rhett Keene making a welcome return as the monstrous Norman; and the delightful Jane Wing as his short-sighted but harshly realistic wife Ruth.
I hope though that they will forgive me for giving the highest honours to Barn newcomers Susie Major as Sarah and Lisa White as Annie.
These were both performances of the very highest standard, as good as any you will see in the professional theatre, and I very much hope we shall see them again on the Barn stage soon.
What I haven’t mentioned about this play is that it forms part of a trilogy, The Norman Conquests, all dealing with the events of the same weekend.
It’s astonishing that Ayckbourn could write three brilliant plays all on the same theme without repeating himself or boring the audience, and even more astonishing that all three works stand on their own feet without requiring the slightest knowledge of what happens in the others.