The Norman Conquests at The Ensemble
The Ensemble is ending off a huge 2018 with not one but three great plays - The Norman Conquests, a trilogy. Carly spoke with Mark Kilmurry, director of the Norman Conquests and Artistic Director of the Ensemble Theatre about the shows and how he has gone about bringing three full length productions to the stage at the same time. Have a read below:
The Norman Conquests are three separate full length plays that you are presenting as a trilogy. What are the challenges that you face as a director in putting the three on together? What has the process been like in bringing these works to the stage?
The challenge is mostly time! We have three plays in rehearsal at once and even though the cast remains the same it is still a juggling act running one play, detailing, notes and on to the next. We have seven weeks rehearsal and it is just enough. The process though is very exciting as the cast are excellent and Ayckbourn’s play a pleasure to work on. Once the plays have opened it will be fun playing them in rep.
Do you recommend seeing all three in a day or spacing them out? And for audiences who may not be able to make all three, are these plays stand alone as well or is it best to try catch them all?
The plays stand alone and you get a full story with no compromise in writing or plot. The genius of the writer is in his clever plotting with each play. If however you see all three then you can see why I use the word genius when describing Ayckbourn’s trilogy. It is breathtaking, simple storytelling that happens to also be extremely funny. The plays pay off when seen in one day as they do individually. You hear people laugh at a moment in the living room because they saw the moment before in the dining room. It’s extraordinarily clever.
Often described as a comedy, the show’s synopsis sounds as though the plays have a great deal of pathos around the lives of the central characters. As a director, how do you, and your cast, successfully manage that fine line between funny and sad?
Alan Ayckbourn has done that as the writer. I remind the cast not to play funny, do gags, help the play. The plays have to be played seriously, like Chekhov. The situation is then extremely funny. If we play for laughs we are dead in the water.
Tell us a bit about your staging decisions – how are you bringing this world to the stage across the three plays all in the one space? What opportunities and challenges does this present in creating the shows?
Hugh O Conner, the designer of the production, and I talked a lot about the original idea of the trilogy being in the round. With that idea we have decided to focus on the world on the stage and not lavish sets running up the walls. The audience should feel they are watching the play in the round even though at the Ensemble it is in three quarters. The emphasis is on the acting and the characters and the well placed furniture.
What makes these plays so important for 2018 audiences to see? Why are these the shows that you, as Artistic Director, have taken on and chosen to cap off the season with? What can audiences expect and what is it that you believe has remained current and desirable about these shows?
The Norman Conquests are about relationships and the fraught, funny, sad, sometimes preposterous way husbands and wives act and react with each other. It looks at family, at a desperate weekend in which a family is thrown together. These are universal and timeless themes and even though the play was written in 1973 and set in Britain the themes haven’t changed. We are still trying to work out who we are in relation to gender, family, love, sex and belonging. The play is funny through recognition and hilarious because those urges are still within us and society. I like finishing the year with a comedy around Christmas and this year we have three!
Favourite production you have ever seen?
Oh gosh so many. One that stayed with me was the RSC production of A Midsummer Nights Dream in 1988 with a great cast including David Troughton as Bottom. David was Tom in the TV version of The Norman Conquests. But lots of great plays stay with you.
You’re getting on a plane tomorrow and you can go anywhere in the world, where do you go?
I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights. But New York always has a pull after living there a while back. But I like to travel when I can and there are lots of places I still want to see including some more of remote Australia.
Dream show to direct?
I am happy directing the play I am directing at the time — but would like to do another musical at some point and I often like the idea of directing an opera or another Shakespeare - but I would have to want to do it passionately. For the Ensemble theatre I love the plays I get to work on and very lucky to have that freedom and choice doing comedy, drama etc within a season.
Plays or musicals?
I enjoy both. Depending on the play or musical of course.
A hobby you have beyond the theatre?
I love film. Music. Reading. Writing. Drawing. All the usual art related pastimes.
What’s next for you after this show?
I go into the new David Williamson play The Big Time, a very funny social comedy by our greatest living playwright. I am looking forward to it starting just before Xmas then opening late January.
Mark Kilmurry - Director and Artistic Director of The Ensemble
The Norman Conquests