Note: This review dates from the production's original West End run at the Gielgud Theatre in August 1998.
You ve got to respect a person who has written 52 (!) plays. Alan Ayckbourn is one prolific - and profitable - playwright. So there was no shortage of excitement around the arrival of Things We Do For Love, Acykbourn s latest which he wrote and directed and which stars Jane Asher.
The premise for Things We Do For Love is an age-old one - the lovers triangle. Barbara (Asher), Spike to her school chums, is a fiercely independent and uncompromising, middle-aged woman whose sexual experience is limited to a single teenage fumble. She is landlady to the besotted Gilbert (Barry McCarthy), a retired postman with a penchant for cross-dressing in Barbara s charity cast-offs, who lives downstairs. As the play opens, the upstairs flat is being filled by Barb s best friend Nikki (Serena Evans) and her fiancé Hamish (Steven Pacey).
Barbara takes an instant dislike to Hamish - first of all, he s Scottish, and even worse, he s a vegetarian. What s wrong with being a vegetarian? “I don t know,” says Barbara in typical straight-backed, cross-armed fashion, “It just sort of generally irritates me.” But how quickly - and largely inexplicably - hatred turns to passion. By the end of the first act, Barbara is making up for lost bed-time with Hamish in the upstairs flat as Nikki baths innocently downstairs.
Roger Glossop s clever three-tier set, where only Barbara s middle flat is seen full-on, keeps our voyeurism to a modest level - knee-level in fact. But there s no foreshortening of the impact such shenanigans wreak on the lives in question. Things become nasty in the second act as Nikki is abandoned by both friend and lover, Gilbert s fantasies are quashed and Barbara and Hamish, overcome with guilt and blaming one another, stop kissing and start punching. You can t really miss the message here - “love” makes us do some crazy things, it turns us into animals.
Though Asher may be too attractive for the part (can you really believe this woman has only had sex once in her life?), she makes up for it in her perfectly prickly portrayal of Barbara. The only problem with this is in the script. Barbara is so prickly and off-putting that it s difficult to see what compels Hamish to fall in love with her.
Acykbourn, both as writer and director, misses a few more tricks with this production. The follow-up joke on Hamish s taste in ties for instance. And McCarthy s wonderfully befuddled Gilbert is just crying out for a bigger piece of the action.
Most disappointing, however, is Acykbourn s ending. With its amplified, sitcom-style music and happily Hollywood denouement, it s totally discordant with what s gone before. As Barbara might say, I don t know, it just generally irritates me.