Round and Round the Garden Review

Civic Theatre, Darlington – 18 January 2016

Alan Ayckbourn, author of some 75 plays, writes about ordinary men and women, building his popular comedies around his characters’ fears, tics, and fantasies.  Ayckbourn does not build gag machines that spit out one-liners. He creates finely etched figures of fun whose behaviour is rooted in their befuddled personalities.

Round and Round the Garden is probably the most familiar choice for staging just one of the Norman Conquests trilogy, in which we see Norman seduce the three women in his close family, often with comedic – but also with a poignant – effect.

The three siblings and their husbands (or wished-for partner in one case) have come together to give the younger sister, the spinster Annie (Jo Castleton), a respite from caring for their mother. The pivotal figure is a libertine librarian, Norman (Philip Stewart). Married to the myopic, work-obsessed Ruth (Louise Faulkner), Norman’s chief objective is to whisk his sister-in-law, Annie, off for a dirty weekend in East Grinstead. When that fails, he turns his attention to his other sister-in-law, Sarah (Natasha Gray).  The secret getaway is quickly broadcast when the caustic Sarah finds out and telephones Ruth. “I thought you should know,” she tells her with barely disguised malice.

Ruth arrives at the start of Act II to complicate the affair. The other odd character, and you can read that any way you chose, is Tom (Ben Roddy), the local vet who has been faux-courting Annie for years. He hangs around, frequently arriving artlessly just in time for dinner. He seems to love her, but he cannot get the romantic words out of his mouth.  With Sarah’s husband Reg (Kevin Pallister) thrown in for comic effect – he delivers some of the best lines and moments in the show

The audience in Darlington were small but responsive to the show, laughing appreciatively.  it was stilted in some places but it was the very first night of the tour.  The set is outstandingly beautiful and you really felt you were in an English Country Garden as the tune rang out to us to begin the show.

On tour around the UK