By Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Aidan Fennessy, Playhouse, Arts Centre, until February 12
Alan Ayckbourn’s enormously popular plays have never moved mountains, but they certainly move people to laugh, even if rather ruefully at times.
Things We Do for Love, written in 1997, Ayckbourn’s 51st play, is a four-hander about love that inevitably ends with one happy pair and two individuals with broken hearts. This misery has been the necessary price for the lovers’ happiness, so love turns out to be a risky business for all concerned.
The length of the play, nearly three hours including interval, is an indication of its plot-driven action, and perhaps some rather slow patches in Aidan Fennessy’s direction. Since this plot is fairly predictable, it does seem too long.
Fortunately, the production has a sterling cast, notably Pamela Rabe in the main role of Barbara, a middle-aged woman whose spinsterly ways are blown up by an unexpected capacity for passion. Unfortunately her probity is also compromised by her falling in love with her best friend Nikki’s fiance, Hamish, who enthusiastically reciprocates. As Nikki, Roz Hammond projects an infantilised sexuality that is symbolised by her lolly-pink clothes and a teddy-bear on her pillow.
Since sex is still too scary to risk it is hardly surprising that Hamish (Marco Chiappi) eventually races for the bedroom with Barbara for a session of noisy and energetic sex that soon leads to love. Or maybe it’s the other way around; as the result is the same it hardly matters.
Much of the play’s comedy depends on visual jokes created by its three-level set. Barbara’s flat is in the middle; upstairs is the small flat she is letting to Nikki and Hamish; while downstairs in the basement lurks Gilbert (Francis Greenslade) who has fetishised Barbara in a ceiling painting and a room draped with her cast-off clothes, some of which he likes to wear in private.
This set also reminds us of the play’s similarities to classical farce, but instead of doors hiding the guilty parties, we are privy to the action in three slices, albeit seeing only legs upstairs and heads downstairs. However, Ayckbourn’s characters take us into deeper psychological waters than farce usually offers.
While his eye for comic opportunities is as good as ever, such as Barbara’s self-deluding control of her life being symbolised in the House and Garden perfection of her flat, this also disguises complex and deep needs that she is denying. Rabe‘s subtlety as an actor ensures that we not only understand, but also sympathise with the character.
Even the character of Gilbert, played with touchingly full-on sincerity by Greenslade, is fleshed out well beyond the joke opportunities he offers. Marco Chiappi also manages to make Hamish, something of a serial philanderer, surprisingly sympathetic. Roz Hammond seems almost purely comic, yet rises well to the acting challenge of her eventual martyrdom.
Altogether this is as entertaining as we would expect from Ayckbourn, though with less of the sharp wit and economy of observation that some of his earlier plays exhibited.
Scans from theatregold.com