The Mill at Sonning - Round and Round the Garden
1st October to 21st November 2015.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Round and round the mill
Round and Round the Garden, at The Mill at Sonning, until November 21
When Alan Ayckbourn mentioned in passing that he thought a trilogy would be a good idea, so a journalist reported that he was writing one – he got on and wrote one – well three actually... plays, that is.
Known collectively as The Norman Conquests, Table Manners was the first, Living Together followed and this play was the third. All three are complete in themselves and follow the misadventures of Norman, an assistant librarian, played with, a good sense of comedy by James Wallace, his in-laws and a vet, over a weekend in an English country house.
The house belongs to Annie, nicely underplayed by Nellie Harker as the easy-going sister. Annie talks about having an affair as getting it off her chest or out of her system – 'Like a laxative!'.
Chris Potter gave a poignant, well- observed portrayal of Tom, the vet who knows exactly how to treat or look after any animal but is hopeless at human relations.
Harry Gosteloe did well as Reg, a man who can discuss 10 different ways of travelling from home to East Grinstead and bore his listeners to death.
Norman, meanwhile, attempts to seduce both Annie, her sister Sarah (Susannah Harker, with good comedy timing) and finally his own wife, with comic and various degrees of success.
In typical Ayckbourn fashion, the characters weave around each other, rarely saying what they really mean and setting up all sorts of misunderstandings. In one hilarious sequence Sarah Edwardson, strong in the part of Ruth, Norman's wife, attempts to get some sort of reaction or even spark of life put of the hapless Tom by setting him up and pretending that she loves him, only for him to take her seriously and go and confess to the woman he should be courting, Annie.
Ayckbourn once said he usually felt he was peering out of a foxhole as critics took potshots at him, but with this trilogy he was standing up. He later expressed surprise at the number of enthusiastic reviews he got.
Unobtrusively directed by Abigail Anderson and with an impressive set designed by Michael Holt, this production flowed along seamlessly and I had no desire whatsoever to take any potshots at the author, standing up or crouching down.