Another student production comes to the Oxford playhouse and once again its sure to be a must see. A tragicomedy chronicling a single household’s weekend in July, Living Together captures the tensions of family life.
It is part of The Norman Conquests trilogy by Tony and Olivier Award-winning playwright Alan Ayckbourn. Annie (Lizzy Mansfield), the youngest of three siblings, has stayed at home to care for her mother (Rebecca Hamilton), but asks for the help of her brother Reg (James Aldred) and sister-in-law Sarah (Sarah Mat- thews) when she plans to spend a weekend away with the philandering Norman (Freddie Bowerman). Complications arise as Norman’s wife Ruth (Mary Higgins), who also happens to be Annie’s sister, arrives, adding to the general frenzy.
In the midst of the chaos is Annie’s meek fianceÌe Tom (James Watson), who seems to have trapped Annie in an “eternal engagement” with his indecisive and clueless demeanor. Ten-sions continue to rise as the weekend unfolds and past experiences take their toll on the family.
Directors Laura Cull and Griffith Rees have had big ambitions for the production from the start, by trying to combine as many ele- ments as possible from all three parts of the trilogy into a single work. Characters rarely leave the stage in this naturalistic rendering, where even the character only mentioned in the script, the Mother, is given a voice in the improvised scenes.
While intimate conversations are going on in the living room, the audience will be able to see (and hear) the other characters walk- ing in the garden or talking in the bedroom. Discussions between varying characters will take place concurrently using ‘improv solutions’. The use of improv during rehearsals has served to create a fun atmosphere for the cast where each character is explored through past and present. In my time with the cast, I got to see the cast explore a time in the childhood of Reg, Ruth, and Annie. The improvised scene featured a time when the two girls came in after raking leaves while wounded Reg lay on the living room couch with a football injury next to Mother. This organic process has helped the cast build the lives of their characters memory by memory.
The set itself will feature products of these improv sessions, for example Annie’s childhood drawings or Reg’s paper airplanes in their respective bedrooms. The audience will get a taste of the meticulously crafted reality, and get an intimate view of how their individual decisions come to affect them all. Director Griffith Rees explains the importance of the set design, remarking, “It’s one thing to see a man seducing another man’s wife, but it’s entirely different to see a man seducing someone’s wife when you see the husband in the next room.”
With an energetic cast clearly devoted to the material, Living Together promises the audience a comprehensive view of Ayckbourn’s characters and their experiences.