This 1997 play is perfunctorily dismissed on Wikipedia as the story of a woman who begins an affair with her best friend’s fiance, only for it to descend into violence.
Throw in the extraordinary set, which allows the audience to see the whole of the ground floor, the top three feet of the basement and the bottom five feet of the first floor of a three storey house in London, along with the name “Ayckbourn” and you might be forgiven for assuming “more of the same with a star thrown in”.
But Things We Do for Love is a great deal more than that, and possibly introduces the most interesting character in all the prolific writer’s 70-plus plays in Barbara.
Without offering too many spoilers, the play centres around Barbara, fastidious and opinionated 30-something businesswoman, only child, living alone in the house in Fulham where she grew up, with postman Gilbert renting the basement and old school friend Nikki about to move into the upstairs flat with her fiance Hamish.
Claire Price brings out the facets of this complex woman with astonishing subtlety in another spellbinding performance in Bath (after 50 Words).
As Nikki, Natalia Imbruglia captures the simple childishness of a woman with a self-fulfilling belief that she is one of life’s victims.
Edward Bennett’s “big bear” Hamish is a decent chap, hurled into unaccustomed behaviour by Ayckbourn’s “love” and Simon Gregor’s wonderfully observed Gilbert is excruciating. His relationship with Barbara is wonderful to watch not so much because of its underlying peculiarity but because of its awful ordinariness.
Director Laurence Boswell is the master of nuance, and disguising even the set-piece scenes so they catch the audience unawares.
In an exceptional early 2014 collection of Ayckbourns at the Theatre Royal, this is the one not to be missed, and it’s on until 26th April before its seven-venue national tour.