High farce and drama in Ayckbourn’s trilogy at Chichester Festival Theatre

John Hollingworth
John Hollingworth

John Hollingworth has got a message for anyone who thinks the theatre just isn’t for them: The Norman Conquests are the perfect entry point.

The three plays which make up Sir Alan Ayckbourn’s trilogy (Monday, September 18, to Saturday, October 28) can all be viewed in one day at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Or you can pick any one of them and watch it as a play which stands completely on its own.

Watch all three, and you will get the full effect, though.

“It will have its own energy, and it will be great fun,” says John.

“Often these days, it is a bit of a struggle to make theatre relevant. People say ‘Why bother when I can stay at home with all the different TV channels and with Netflix?’

“But The Norman Conquests are the answer to that. They are event theatre, big event theatre. It will be a joy to meet these characters and then see them come back and then come back again.

“It is going to be an electric atmosphere.

“I think what is attractive about it is that it is such a combination of very moving points, almost like Chekhov, and then high farce very much like… I don’t want to say Ayckbourn!

“But it is that combination of high farce and moments of real drama that makes it very special, and I think that’s really thrilling to play for an actor.”

The switch between the two isn’t so very difficult to do: “It is almost a physical thing. It is almost like muscle memory. For us, it is a bit like a marathon… eight and a half hours.

“But really what I am keen to stress is that it is really easily digestible. You don’t need to see the whole trilogy in one go (on the trilogy days). You can just see them one at a time… or just see one.

“Each play takes place in a different location, one in the dining room, one in the living room, one is the garden, and they take place over the one weekend.”

As one character leaves one location so they enter a different play.

“But the way they are structured is that each is complete in itself.

“This is my first time in Chichester and I haven’t done any Ayckbourn before, so it is a double first.

“But I do know his work, and you can see why he is the most performed playwright in the world after Shakespeare or even over Shakespeare.

“It is based on that combination of high comedy and tragedy, and it is all very relatable to, wherever you are from.

“Ayckbourn is just such a brilliant observer he can see the comedy in getting a spoon out of a drawer or putting a cup down on a table.

“And that’s why I think Ayckbourn is such a great entry point. It is fun and it is accessible, and it shows off theatre at its best. We want young people to come along. It is essential that young people come to the theatre. They might be a bit noisy and they might still be learning the rules of going to the theatre, but it is so important that they are there.

“Alan Ayckbourn will be coming to see us in October. But speaking as a writer myself, I know that Alan is a writer who knows how to make himself indispensable by being so exact in what he writes and in the stage directions. He is such a great observer that he is able to transmit everything in the text.

“If he came to the rehearsals, we would not really have very much to ask him except ‘Do you like it!’”

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