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Theatre / The Norman Conquests

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Left to right: Sarah, Norman, Annie.

The Norman Conquests is a cycle of three plays written by Alan Ayckbourn and first performed in 1973. All three plays take place in the same house, on the same July weekend, but in different rooms. Each play stands alone, and they can be watched in any order; however, some of the scenes overlap, and on several occasions a character's exit from one play corresponds with an entrance in another.

  • Table Manners takes place in the dining room.
  • Living Together takes place in the living room.
  • Round and Round the Garden takes place in the garden.

The story focuses on the intertwining lives of siblings Annie, Reg, and Ruth; Reg's wife Sarah; Ruth's husband Norman; and local vet Tom, who is theoretically courting Annie (emphasis on "theoretically"). All three plays start on Saturday evening with Reg and Sarah arriving to take over nursing duties for Reg and Annie's bedridden mother so that Annie can go away for the weekend. Norman arrives unexpectedly to take Annie away, leading to Sarah's discovery that the two of them have been carrying on a long-distance affair since the previous Christmas. Sarah quickly talks Annie out of spending the weekend at a hotel with Norman, and instead, the four prepare to spend the weekend at the house. The next day, Norman focuses some of his charm on Sarah, leading her to panic and call Ruth to come down as well. Norman and Ruth have a sort of reconciliation on Sunday night, but Monday morning finds him still trying to thaw Sarah and rekindling the flame in the very willing Annie, who is frustrated at Tom's lack of perceptiveness. After the weekend guests have driven off, Tom finally proposes to Annie, but she tells him she wants to think it over before giving him an answer. Then Reg, Sarah, Ruth, and Norman return; Norman has managed to wreck both couples' cars. In the end, Norman is left sitting alone in the garden, out of favor with everyone—at least temporarily.


A television adaptation was made in 1977 with the following cast:

The Norman Conquests provides examples of the following:

  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Reg's idle comment that Sarah having an affair might spice up their marriage may be what gives Norman the idea to pursue Sarah. Then again, Norman doesn't really need encouragement to chase after anything female.
    Reg: I've often thought it [an affair] might actually help a marriage sometimes. It gets a bit stale, between you, you know.... Perhaps if she—went off for a few days with someone—she might—well, it might make her a bit more—you know, give her a fresh—get her going again, for God's sake. If you follow me. (Round and Round the Garden)
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  • Blind Without 'Em: Ruth refuses to wear her glasses for reasons of vanity, but is severely hampered by this.
  • Brick Joke: Jokes are set up which don't pay off until the next play in some cases.
  • Career Versus Man: Norman keeps trying to force this choice on Ruth. She tends to choose "career," but he hasn't given up hope yet.
  • The Charmer: Norman would like to be this guy but ruefully admits he doesn't have the looks for it. (But he manages pretty well anyway.)
    Norman: A man with my type of temperament should really be ideally square-jawed, broad-shouldered, have blue twinkling eyes, a chuckle in his voice and a spring in his stride. He should get through three women a day without even ruffling his hair. That's what I'm like inside.... The trouble is, I was born in the wrong damn body. Look at me. A gigolo trapped in a haystack. (Table Manners)
  • Euro Game: The board game Reg invents sounds like an early example, from what we hear of it (with a side order of Calvinball, since the rules would have been considered ludicrously complex at the time).
  • Extreme Doormat:
    • Reg, but he kind of likes having Sarah boss him around.
      Reg: I prefer being told what to do really. I think if nobody told me what to do I'd never do anything at all. I remember she went away once for a fortnight.... Left me on my own in the house. Do you know, I felt myself gradually slowing down. At the end of ten days I was hardly moving at all. Extraordinary. It was as if she'd wound me up before she left and now I was running down. (Living Together)
    • Annie can be like this too, but she tends to lash out eventually.
  • The Ghost: Reg, Annie, and Ruth's mother. Averted in the TV adaptation with Cat (the cat), who is actually seen.
  • I Take Offense to That Last One:
    Ruth: You are deceitful, odious, conceited, self-centred, selfish, inconsiderate and shallow!
    Norman: I am not shallow!
  • Manchild: Reg, at least when he's at home. He is implied to be fairly successful in the real estate business otherwise.
  • Not Wanting Kids Is Weird: In Table Manners, Sarah criticizes Ruth for not wanting children:
    Sarah: It's no business of mine if you choose to deny yourself one of the greatest satisfactions in a woman's—
    Ruth: There you go again! "Deny myself"? What's the matter with you all?
    Sarah: I might well ask, what's the matter with you?
  • Parenting the Husband: Sarah claims she has to do this for Reg.
    Sarah: I've got two children to worry about, a house, a husband—of sorts. But the point is I seem to be the only one in this family capable of making any decision at all. I mean, whether I like it or not, I seem to be the head of this family at the moment. By rights, it ought to be Reg—if you've lived with Reg, you know he can't even pay a gas bill. How he's still an estate agent after all these years I never cease to wonder. I'm amazed he hasn't sold someone the same house twice.... (Round and Round the Garden)
  • P.O.V. Sequel: Of a sort, if you think of the rooms as different points of view.
  • Power Hair: Ruth, in the TV adaptation (a shorter seventies variant, but recognizable as the same effect).
  • "Rashomon"-Style: Again, of a sort. You see three different sides to the same events by seeing what goes on in three different rooms.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Alan Ayckbourn wanted Tom Courtenay for the role of Norman but Courtenay was unavailable for the first few days of rehearsals. This is why Norman is absent from Scene One of Table Manners.
  • Really Gets Around: Mother, apparently, in her younger days.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    Norman: I'm just... magnetic or something.
    Ruth: No, you are not magnetic, Norman, not at all! You are odious! You are deceitful, odious, conceited, self-centred, selfish, inconsiderate and shallow!
  • Rhetorical Request Blunder: Amazed at Tom's monumental emotional denseness, Ruth tells him she would like to strip off all her clothes, dance naked on the grass, and then hurl him down and make love to him, just to see his reaction. Tom takes this quite literally and later solemnly informs Annie that Ruth has been harboring a secret passion for him.
  • Riddle for the Ages: In Table Manners, Tom gives up on telling a joke since no one is listening so we never get to hear the punchline.
  • Seven Minute Lull: The first half of Living Together ends with Norman making a drunken phone call to Ruth while Reg is trying to explain his board game to Sarah, Annie, and Tom. The rules discussion dies down several times just as Norman forgets Reg's instruction to keep his voice down, leading the four players to be startled by such outbursts as, "I SAID YOU ARE A SELFISH BITCH!" and "LOVE!? WHAT DO YOU KNOW ABOUT LOVE?!"
  • Uptight Loves Wild: Or is married to him, anyway (Ruth and Norman).