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Fiona Reid on the theatrical marathon that is The Norman Conquests

Soulpepper: The Norman Conquests Fiona Reid and Derek Boyes in Living Together.

photo by Cylla von Tiedemann

Fiona Reid is such a delightful actress, you think, that you could watch her all day long. Well, with The Norman Conquests, a set of three rollicking, bed-hopping comedies from 1973 written by the British playwright Alan Ayckbourn, now's your chance. The plays can be taken in on their own during Soulpepper's current remount, or (on March 8) the trio of Table Manners, Living Together and Round and Round the Garden can be attended back-to-back-to-back. We spoke with Ms. Reid about the particular challenges of endurance theatre.

We wanted to speak with you about the marathon one-day performances of all three plays of The Norman Conquests, but, just to be clear, the plays are also presented individually, right?

Yes. You could go to one and not see the other two. That's the genius of what Alan Ayckbourn has done. The plays stand on their own, yet they are absolutely intertwined pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

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Are the marathon performances popular, or do people prefer to see the three plays one at a time, on different days?

Audiences have flocked to the marathon-day performances. The joy of seeing them in one day is that the audience members can recollect straight away. "Oh my gosh, that's what happened when she went into the living room," or "Oh, no wonder she's not talking to him this morning, because he was drunk the night before in the other play." Having said that, when we do the plays on their own, you can still tell by a ripple of laughter or a chuckle on one night if there are people who have seen the other plays on another night. So, it's these little things you get that are really quite delicious.

It's not unusual for an actor to perform a matinee and an evening show in one day. But how is it, physically, for an actor to work for six hours and three plays in one day?

It's an odd thing to put one's body through. You're used to having an adrenalin rush with the show and comedown. But with three, there's no time for downtime. The second of three shows is taking place when you would normally be winding down on a typical two-show day.

What do you do between shows?

Between the second and third show in particular, I lie down on a cot, with Mozart in my ears. I try to zone out.

Is your character, the prudish, prickly wife Sarah, someone you don't mind spending six hours inside?

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Well, all of the characters are fascinating. I have to tell you, I get tired of shows pretty quickly. But with these it's not that way. I sit backstage and listen to a particular scene in Round and Round the Garden and I can't help laughing every single time.

What's the appeal?

People laugh because they understand who we are. People get my character. People get all of the characters. They see themselves or someone they know. These are brilliantly written plays. Not only are the situations ingeniously contrived and developed, but these people are so true to life that we all understand them.

We've talked a little about the demands that the marathon performances place on the actors, but what about the audience?

We applaud the audience at the end of a three-show day. It's asking a lot of them. It takes a particular type of adventurous person to do that. I always wonder what people are doing between shows. I always assume they're looking for a place to take a nap, but then I see people with glasses of wine or beer and I think, "Oh my lord, I could never do that." But they're watching, and we're doing. There's the difference.

This interview has been condensed and edited.

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The Norman Conquests trilogy runs to March 8, with the last remaining marathon-day presentation (1, 4:30 and 8 p.m.) taking place that day. $57 to $74. Young Centre, 50 Tank House Lane, Distillery District., 416-866-8666 or

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About the Author

Brad Wheeler is an arts reporter with The Globe and Mail. More


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