THINGS WE DO FOR LOVE: Alan Ayckbourn.
Theatre Royal: Tkts 0115 989 5555 www.royalcentre-nottingham.co.uk.
Touring information: Theatre Royal Bath Productions.
Runs: 2h 25m: one interval: till 3rd May.
Review: Alan Geary: 28th April 2014.
Excellent entertainment, if only for the set.
There are two remarkable features in this Ayckbourn – the performances; and the set, which is so important as to become almost a fifth character.
The initial premise is that Barbara owns a house divided into three flats, one on each floor. Gilbert, a cloth-capped handyman, occupies the semi-basement; Barbara herself lives in the middle; a young couple, Hamish and Nikki – she’s an old school-friend of Barbara’s – are moving into the top flat.
This is 1996 Fulham. Between scenes a front curtain shows a uniform Victorian terrace of houses with steps up to front doors and semi-basements. The curtain lifts to show the house, front-on with the fourth wall missing. We get the whole of Barbara’s flat, but only the bottom half of the top flat and the top half of the bottom flat; additionally there are the hallway and staircases outside the flats. It means that we have an overview of the action denied the characters.
It’s a slow developer – for the first scene or two you wonder where the play’s going. But it gathers momentum to become embarrassingly action packed. Relationships change, unpredictably. There’s a clue in the programme though: it mentions a Fight Director. Rather than just comic, this play’s tragi-comic; like most Ayckbourn, it’s edgy and uncomfortable.
The girls’ old school song with two versions, the official one and the dirty one, is appalling.
At times Simon Gregor goes over the top as Gilbert but his ratted scene is very well done, as is his curious sing-song voice. Edward Bennett, as Hamish, shows the sort of comic timing we saw him demonstrate in One Man, Two Guvnors. Natalie Imbruglia, in her stage debut, is excellent. She does a piping, innocent voice, and irritating baby talk; and when she looks from Hamish to Barbara and asks “But what about me?” she’s genuinely moving.
Claire Price’s Barbara gives the outstanding performance. In a nice contrast to Nikki she’s much more hockey sticks and assertive, and meaty; but, especially as character revelation gets underway, she also has complexity and depth. As indeed does this production.
Barbara: Claire Price.
Gilbert: Simon Gregor.
Nikki: Natalie Imbruglia.
Hamish: Edward Bennett.
Director: Laurence Boswell.
Designer: Giles Cadle.
Lighting Designer: Ben Ormerod.
Fight Director: Kate Waters.