Table Manners – November 2008


By Alan Ayckbourn

Directed by Matthew Warchus

Venue: Old Vic Theatre

Date: Wednesday 26th November 2008

This is the middle play in the trilogy, in the sense that the overall action begins in the garden, the next earliest scene is in the dining room, while the sitting room kicks off last. It’s slightly darker in tone than the sitting room; this is where we get to see each character at their worst, and also where we get the revelations about each woman’s relationship with her man which make sense of Norman’s conquests. We do also get to hear the men’s side of things, too, and we can see for ourselves that Sarah and Ruth are no picnic, but as they’re the ones Norman is targeting, I reckon it’s natural to have a bit more sympathy for them. He certainly does.

He also gets a punch on the jaw during dinner, courtesy of man-mouse Tom, who finally stands up for Annie only to find that Norman was actually insulting his own wife Ruth. Tom’s apologetic “Oh, that’s rather different” got a huge laugh, while the punch itself got a smattering of applause.

The parts were better balanced this time, as Ruth turns up during the second scene, and I love the way Ayckbourn keeps giving us twist after twist. We were in the same seats as before, and the view was still pretty good, though I was nearly blinded by one of the spotlights which came on for several minutes while one of the characters was centre front, if there can be such a thing with theatre in the round. Fortunately it wasn’t on for long, but it was a real nuisance while it was.

The performances were all good again, and if I single out Amanda Root for special praise it’s only because her character, Sarah, has so much more to do in this play, and she handled the twists and turns, the gentle gradients and whiplash-inducing switchbacks with impeccable mastery. Even seeing her from the back, there were some wonderful expressions on her face! She went from cheerful and bubbly (or irritating, as her husband might call it), to worried, to censorious, to nervous, to hysterical, to unhappy, to hopeful but wary, to determined, to cheerful again, all in the space of two and a half hours and with a few other ports of call along the way. Wonderful.

The set was much simpler this time. Still the big jammy dodger effect, but the room itself had only a small storage unit for cutlery, etc., a fireplace, a low stool, and the long dining table with only four chairs, which was never going to be big enough to sit those people round it without open warfare. The entrance from the house was far left from where we sat, the door to garden was to our right. And it’s the garden scenes we’re looking forward to next.

© 2008 Sheila Evans at

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