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|A CurtainUp London Review
Things We Do For Love
By Sue Krisman
Although I am crazy about musicals, there is nothing more exciting than the opening of a new play.
Without benefit of magical music or delectable dancing, a few characters talking to one another are going to have to entertain us for over two hours.
Alan Ayckbourn has taken just four people who live in a small house that is split into flats. The fact that Barbara ( Jane Asher) "the landlord" and Nikki (Serena Evans), a tenant from the flat upstairs were at school together and the fact that everyone loves Barbara is almost an Ayckbourn convention. But the way this play is constructed and the way it is acted makes it certainly one of his best and the one I will always remember as sort of a perfect play.
The other plays being talked about with awe at the moment are A Delicate Balance and Art - both of them highly enjoyable and crafted well, but in this play there are no moments when your theatrical heart tells you that something isn't quite right, as they do.
The way Barbara is played by Jane Asher must take her to the West End prizes -it isn't an easy part. You could loathe Barbara's uptight, obsessive, hard as nails senior prefect nature, if it wasn't played so cleverly - and of course, underneath it all, she is a soft and tender woman with a soul. And the fluffy-bunny part, Nikki, the ex fourth-former with a crush, is played with exquisite balance by Serena Evans.
Nikki has survived a violent marriage and is in a relationship with the "simply gorgeous" Hamish. Hamish, played by Steven Pacey, was the right mix of compliant fiance and man of the world, patience on a monument and brute that most people probably are. Nikki, who hasn't moved on very far, still idolises Barbara who seems to be so sophisticated and competent. The couple have taken the flat upstairs until their house is ready. Barbara makes it very easy for Hamish to take a violent dislike to her, (but that never harmed any Ayckbourn play!) Meanwhile, down in the significantly lower-class basement flat, Gilbert, the post-man (Barry Mccarthy) harbours more than a bit of secret love for Barbara.
The set and staging are the author's too, as he is the director as well, and it seemed perfect, and very funny, that in the split set all you can see of upstairs is the bed and legs (just imagine the acting movement and expertise needed to portray everything with your shins!) and all you can see downstairs is a coffin-like space for Gilbert, carefully portrayed by Barry McCarthy at his best, to tell us all. There is a half-door so that the corridors and stairs are part of the scenery for us, but invisible to the actors - brilliant, all of it.
The play begins with a marvellously funny scene where Gilbert is being boring about the water-system as he attends to the radiator in the upstairs bedroom while Jane Asher's lovely legs act her tights off. We can take in the whole plot, the staging and the conflicts that are promised, whilst this is going on. (It should be required reading for all writers of plays who begin with a woman lying on the sofa and a phone ringing.)
And the play ends with a very difficult scene I don't want to be too specific about, that is perfectly staged and so perfectly concluded that the applause is slightly muted by the mixed feelings that it leaves behind.
This is a funny but grown-up and quite cynical play. It is ultimately about the power of love - that strange state that still, at the end of the century, overwhelms all other sense and sensibility. If you like theatre, don't miss this.