Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn, adapted by Peter Kavanagh

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Table Manners by Alan Ayckbourn. Dir. Peter Kavanagh. Perf. Julian Rhind-Tutt, Helen Baxendale, Nigel Planer. BBC Radio 4, 21 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer

The second installment of "The Norman Conquests" trilogy actually turns out to be more savage than the first ("Living Together"). As portrayed by Julian Rhind-Tutt, the eponymous Norman comes across as entirely self-absorbed, indulging in serial philandering as means of confirming his masculinity to himself. His wife Ruth (Tracy-Ann Oberman) considers him a pathetic species of humankind; his infidelities merely serve to emphasize his inadequacies. The only means Norman possesses to counter such insults is to make empty threats to kill himself; we are perfectly aware that he lacks sufficient moral strength of character to carry them out. He is the classic example of someone who has never grown up, using honeyed words to carry out his various seductions with no real sincerity behind them.

If he is such a morally bankrupt character, then how can we explain Annie's (Helen Baxendale's) and Sarah's (Clare Lawrence-Moody's) being so easily taken in by him? The answer, in this production, can be found in their own existences. With little or nothing to look forward to in her life except looking after her bedridden mother and coping with the dullard Tom's (Nigel Planer's) dog-like devotion to her, Annie looks for alternative entertainments, such as a dirty weekend in East Grinstead with Norman. The fact that this will provide no solution to her problems is conveniently ignored; it's the promise of unfettered sexual activity that matters. Imprisoned by anxieties about home, family and children, Sarah has much the same reasons for wanting to have a brief fling with Norman, even if it produces a sense of uncontrollable guilt within her afterwards.

While "Table Manners" concentrates on familiar social issues (as pointed out several times in my reviews of earlier Ayckbourn productions) director Kavanagh has rendered them significant once more by focusing on the characters' lives, and how they are searching for any emotional port in a storm. We feel somehow sorry for them, even while understanding their inability to discover satisfaction.