The Norman Conquests

Norman?!
Norman!?
Norman!!

“A man with my type of temperament should really get through three women a day without even ruffling his hair. That’s what I’m like inside. That’s my appetite. That’s me. I’m a three a day man.”  — Norman Dewars

It’s comedy of life.

Norman Conquests: a trilogy of plays written in 1973 by Alan Ayckbourn. The plays are at times wildly comic, and at times poignant in their portrayals of the relationships among six characters. Each of the plays depicts the same six characters over the same weekend in a different part of a house. Table Manners is set in the dining room, Living Together in the living room, and Round and Round the Garden in the garden. Each play is self-contained, and they may be watched in any order. Some of the scenes overlap, and on several occasions a character’s exit from one play corresponds with an entrance in another. [Wikipedia]

The plays are centered around Norman Dewars, an fun loving Artisan.

It’s fiction, but …

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The Mirror of Fiction

It is not our purpose to become each other;
it is to recognize each other,
to learn to see the other
and honor him for what he is
— Hermann Hesse

Shakespeare’s Hamlet instructed a troupe of actors to catch the truth about his uncle’s conscience with a play, and so defined the power of fiction to make us perceive ourselves more clearly:

the purpose of playing… was and is, to hold,
as ’twere, the mirror up to nature

Certainly fictional characters are not real people, and to insist on their reality may close us off from an author’s distinctive view of the world. Still, when a story catches, as novelist Henry James described it, “the very note and trick, the strange irregular rhythm” of human behavior, we know that we are “touching truth” and breathing the “air of reality.” In other words, when a story lives for us and catches us up in its artifice, most often it is because we see ourselves and our predicaments in its pages, and such a personal recognition can delight us—or disturb us profoundly—with its insight. [The Pygmalion Project]

Ackybourn’s trilogy of plays highlight six profoundly human, but significantly dysfunctional characters, which span the Four Temperaments.   The Norman Dewars character serves the comedic center piece of the action where each of the Four Temperaments are strut out much of their weaknesses  but also some of their strengths for the us, audience, to see.  Self recognition of our own foibles and the maddening behavior of our significant others: our spouses, siblings, parents, and children make for an entertaining and insightful time.

Artisan: Norman; the mischievous, shaggy sheep doggish—and incorrigibly libidinous assistant librarian.

Rational: Ruth; Norman’s wife, ambitious in business, pragmatic, and calmly exasperated about Norman’s amorous intended wanderings.

Idealist: Annie; Ruth’s sister, is a warm and affectionate, starved for love, saddled with the thankless job of caring for the bed-ridden “Mother,” living alone with her in their dingy, crumbling old Victorian house.

Rational: Tom; a veterinary doctor, neighbor and interested in Annie, but is socially totally out to lunch.

Artisan: Reg; A good old boy, Ruth and Annie’s brother, married Sarah. Came out for the weekend to take care of mother, while Annie was to go on “holiday.”

Guardian: Sarah, wife of Reg, a mother hen and doing her duty as she sees fit.  Trying to make sure everybody is doing what they should be doing.

The playwright, Ackybourn seems to naturally, but implicitly, to understand the Temperaments.

Steve Montgomery’s Pygmalion Project: Volume 1, The Artisan uses Ackybourn’s characters to explain the different attitudes of the Temperaments.  For example, Ackybourn nails one particular example of the Rational-Artisan mating relationship.

“It’s a bit like owning an oversized unmanageable dog, being married to Norman. He’s not very well house-trained, he needs continual exerciseand it’s sensible to lock him up if you have visitors…. But I’d hate to get rid of him.” — Ruth

Although the “dog” simile is apt, Ruth has no illusions about “owning” Norman, and only her typically Rational disinterest in possessing the spouse keeps them at all compatible: “You couldn’t possibly take Norman away from me,” she explains in her logical fashion to Annie, since “That assumes I own him in the first place. I’ve never done that. I always feel with Norman that I have him on loan from somewhere. Like one of his library books.” [Pygmalion Project, The Artisan, Norman Dewars]

A Dysfunctional Family trying to get along.

 “We are definitely misunderstood, you and me.”  — Norman Dewars

0 thoughts on “The Norman Conquests”

  1. For many years I have enjoyed this set of plays, both from the intriguing idea of three simultaneous plays as well as the British comedy. I even bought them on VHS and later have them on DVD.

    I am trained in Temperament and found The Pygmalion Project so helpful in understanding and teaching the concepts of temperament. However, I never did find a copy of “The Rationals”. Did it ever get into print?

    Jack Falt, Almonte, Ontario, Canada

    1. I don’t bring the subject up, Steve seems to have moved on to other things. The answer is not at this time.

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