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Table Manners - The Little Theatre Review

Reviewed by Lauren CB
Tickets were gifted in return for an honest review

Which of your family members would you not want to spend a whole weekend with?
Imagine, it’s a warm weekend in July. And you have a country house virtually to yourself… until your whole family turn up!
Photo by Mary Jayne Harding Scott.

Ayckbourn’s ‘Table Manners’ is one of the three scripts that make up his ‘Norman Conquests’ trilogy. This trilogy, written in 1973, tells the complete story of a family spending the weekend together at their bed-bound mother’s country house. Each script tells part of the story from a different perspective and is set in a different room in the house. Table Manners, predictably, is set in the dining room.
Annie (Hollie Matusiewicz) lives at the house permanently, caring for her mother. Exhausted, lonely and ready for a break she asks her brother Reg (Freddie Dobrijevic) and sister-in-law Sarah (Emma Bamford) to stay for the weekend and take over nursing duties so she can head to East Grinstead for a solo holiday. Or so she says…
The opening scene with Sarah and Annie, although lengthy, allowed them to slowly feed us the key information for the story; Tom (Graham Muir), the local vet, is a regular guest in Annie’s house, and Sarah demands to know why Tom and Annie aren’t yet an item. Sarah quickly deduces that Annie isn’t going on holiday alone, so who is she going with? Is it Tom? Annie and Reg have another sister, Ruth, who is married to Norman. It is clear that Sarah dislikes Norman, he is erratic and irresponsible, but it is also clear he will become a key character.
Bamford plays Sarah as nosey, shrewd and high strung, making her a comically familiar judgemental older sister. We did warm to her, as, short temper aside, Sarah only wants what is best for her family. In comparison, Matusiewicz’s Annie had a rather mellow persona to begin with, there was no fire until her first argument with Tom (Muir), at which point Matusiewicz really hit the gas pedal!
The relationship between Annie and Sarah was initially confusing. Sarah was clearly a middle, if not upper-class woman who thinks Annie has let herself go, constantly commenting on her outfit and lack of social life. While not appearing as put-together as Sarah, I couldn’t work out whether Annie’s accent was purposely inconsistent with Matusiewicz exaggerating the upper-class accent to get Sarah’s approval, and softening it around Tom to show she felt most comfortable and secure around him. I came to the conclusion that Annie is deeply insecure, and although she can’t see it, is happiest around Tom, who loves her as she is.
Unfortunately, with the exception of Bamford and Tabz Fogg (who plays Ruth) the diction could have been better across the cast, occasionally words were lost. For the most part, however, the cast did a fabulous job of projecting their voices. There were no microphones but as a hard of hearing audience member I didn’t miss many lines.
Muir’s Tom perfectly matched Sarah and Annie’s prior description; although quite charming (tall, dark and suited), he was awkward, oblivious, gentle and sweet, fixating on a trapped kitten upon entrance rather than picking up on the tension in the room. Both Tom and Sarah had rather prominent character developments, Tom growing in confidence and Sarah taking an unexpected turn in the final scene. Both characters had the audience laughing frequently.
Photo by Mary Jayne Harding Scott.

Annie’s brother, Reg (Dobrijevic), was clearly the ‘eccentric uncle’ of the family. His hairstyle, for one, was larger than life, unkempt and showed him to be the opposite of Bamford’s Sarah, who hadn’t a hair out of place. Dobrijevic and Bamford had the audience laughing out loud as the tired, tetchy married couple who bickered constantly. They were very realistic and relatable; Sarah tries to take on and fix every problem in the family and Reg, who is farm more laid back, lives to wind her up, occasionally getting genuinely sick of her nagging.
Scene two introduced the infamous Norman (Allan Smith)! With much anticipation from the audience, Smith stood on stage in pyjamas and made Dobrijevic’s Reg seem far more grown-up. Immature, needy, loud and attention-seeking, Norman is at Annie’s house unbeknownst to his wife, Ruth (Tabz Fogg.)... If I told you why Norman was there, I would be spoiling it!
When Ruth, Norman’s estranged wife, arrives she does elicit a little sympathy for him. Aided by poor eyesight, she almost looks straight through him and complains that travelling to Annie’s to fetch him has taken her away from a day of working. Later, when she is a little drunk, it becomes clear Ruth washed her hands of her family a long time ago. Sarcastic, sharp and bored, Ruth has no time for anyone in the house, least of all Norman. Reg and Sarah may be tired of each other, but in comparison to Ruth and Norman are practically normal! Fogg and Smith as Ruth and Norman gave the most natural performances and so were very enjoyable to watch.
A special mention has to go to the set design and construction by Sophie Zielonka and Dave Towers respectively. The beauty of the dining room lay in its warm colours and intricacy, with a cabinet of delicate China plates, a small wine cabinet, an ornate clock, a small chandelier and glowing standing lamp dressing the space behind the central dining table. Beyond the dining room we could see the farmhouse-esque staircase leading to mother’s room with framed photos lining the wall. The detail that struck me most were the French doors leading out into the garden. Rich red curtains hung inside and we could see an array of greenery growing beyond., with ivy creeping up the side of the house too. The only criticism of the garden is that the ‘daylight’ was always deep blue, giving the scenes a late summer evening feel even though two scenes were set between 8am and 10am.
Photo by Mary Jayne Harding Scott.

I have to echo what director Russel Hughes said in the programme; Kit Thorley, Deqa Xiddig and Autumn Rogerson did a wonderful job preparing and maintaining the props, particularly all of the food! We could see the stage crew in the scene changes and I enjoyed watching how quickly, quietly and smoothly they struck dishes, cutlery and chairs. These scene changes will only get quicker as the week goes on! The costume changes were also quick and neat, so a well done to the wardrobe team. The strong production team backing a great cast gave this production its professional touch.
I am familiar with Ayckbourn’s writing, and so expected to be watching a comedy, but I also don’t expect to laugh at every comedy I watch. The Leicester Drama Society had me laughing out loud along with the rest of the audience!
‘Table Manners’ runs until 15th June and I definitely recommend you catch it if you can! 
Tickets are available from

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