The Norman Conquests: Frequently Asked Questions

Alan Ayckbourn's Archivist Simon Murgatroyd answers some of the most frequently asked questions about Alan Ayckbourn's trilogy The Norman Conquests.

Is there a correct order to see / produce The Norman Conquests trilogy?
No. The plays can be seen or produced in any combination; there is no correct order to seeing The Norman Conquests and no particular advantage in seeing one play before another. It's not even possible to see them chronologically as Round And Round The Garden contains both the earliest of the first scenes and the latest of the final scenes!
Regarding producing the plays and if there is an order in which they should be produced / premiered. Again, there is no correct order (and once the plays are in repertory it barely matters anyway), however traditionally they have tended to be produced in the order of
Table Manners, Living Together and Round And Round The Garden - this is largely because this was the order in which the world premiere and London premieres took place, but does not reflect a preferred choice by the playwright.

Do I have to see all three plays?
No. The Norman Conquests were conceived as plays which could be seen individually or in combination of two or three plays. Obviously the experience is richer for seeing all three plays, but each play stands on its own and does not require seeing either of the other plays to enjoy.

Why does Norman choose to take Annie for their 'romantic' weekend to East Grinstead of all places?
It's an in-joke, but one which only Alan Ayckbourn and his wife can appreciate! For the answer to this, I refer you to the playwright's wife (then partner) Heather Stoney. "The actual story of why Alan came up with East Grinstead is that there is a lovely country house hotel just outside said town called Gravetye Manor. We had stayed there and Alan thought it would be lovely if Norman had booked he and Annie into there. The chances of Norman actually doing that are pretty slim but Alan liked the thought as an in-joke. The hotel's address is East Grinstead."

Could the trilogy be performed simultaneously by the same cast on three stages (as with Alan Ayckbourn's later play House & Garden)?
Putting aside the practicalities and logistics of doing such a thing, the answer is sadly no. The major problem is unlike House & Garden, not all the scenes are concurrent (for instance, Round And Round The Garden's first scene is set half-an-hour before the other plays) as the plays were not conceived to be performed simultaneously.
Generally speaking, scenes which do take place at the same time generally do work together (although not quite as tightly as
House & Garden), but there are a couple of instances when the timing is not accurate and it wouldn't be possible to run them together without altering the play (and thus the playwright's intentions). It's an interesting idea but both in theory and practise it would not work without making alterations to the structure of the play and compromising the author's original intent for the play (which was the three plays be produced in repertory with each other, not simultaneously with each other).
The playwright's intentions should also be considered. If he had intended
The Norman Conquests to be performed simultaneously, he would have them written that way and produced them as such. Although he briefly considered writing The Norman Conquests as a duology to be performed simultaneously in two auditorium, he made the decision to instead write a trilogy of plays for repertory in the same space. He later revived the idea for a simultaneous duology for House & Garden in 1999.

All research for this page by Simon Murgatroyd.