Things We Do For Love: World Premiere Reviews
Things We Do For Love (by John Peter)
"This is Alan Ayckbourn's 52nd full-length play and one of his best, his most shockingly and uproariously funny: a cruel and hilarious masterpiece of tragic comedy and comic tragedy. Barbara (Joanna Van Gyseghem) is moving into middle age, a trim, crisp, stern woman, capable, elegant, censorious and somewhat chap-like. Works for an investment firm. She is about to let the top flat of her London house to Nikki (Sally Giles), until her new place is ready. Nikki was once Barbs's junior at St Gertrude's and had a pash on her, perhaps still has. Psychologically, she is still in the lower third: she coos, squeals and simpers a lot and is potty about Hamish (Cameron Stewart), her new man of eight months. Her previous man became rather violent and you wonder why - or rather, you don't. In the basement flat, like a scruffy Nibelung, lives Gilbert (Barry McCarthy), an elderly postman, handyman and amateur painter, whose crush on Barbara is becoming embarrassingly clear.
On all three levels of the house, people have fantasies and deep-seated misconceptions about both each other and themselves, and Ayckbourn pierces through their carapace with the precision of a brain surgeon, releasing hideous pain and grateful, aching, embarrassed laughter in equal proportions. He is the only playwright I know who can combine ribald humour with the cruelty of Seneca. Inside everybody, strange, hungry creatures lurk, terrified of freedom. Suddenly you see who you really are. Now what? Ayckbourn's direction has all the ruthless perception of his writing, and his actors give him superlative performances. Roger Glossop's hugely skilful split-level set is a cool, witty comment on the action. Near the end, there is an unexpected appearance by one of Nicole Farhi's sensuously simple dresses, which its creator could never have envisaged."
(Sunday Times, 4 May 1997)
Private Lives For The 1990s
"It was when the illicit lovers - she a self-sufficient man-hater, he her best friend's fiancé - pummelling and kicking each other, finally rolled exhausted on the floor, that I realised the true identity of Alan Ayckbourn's new play, Things We Do for Love. The scribe of Scarborough has rewritten Private Lives for the 1990s suburbs (a bijou house in "London SW", to be precise), foul of mouth, crossed of purpose and explicit of sex. On Tuesday the Stephen Joseph Theatre's proscenium auditorium, the McCarthy, resounded to cheery Yorkshire approbation of such ruderies as coitus interruptus, fetishism and transvestism.
Career woman Barbara is letting her upstairs flat to old school-friend Nikki and Nikki's fiancé, Hamish, while their new house is prepared. Roger Glossop's set gives us Barbara's sitting room, all single woman's neatness complete with antique chairs not meant to be sat on, plus the first couple of feet or so of the upstairs flat - scope for eloquent legwork from invisible actors kicking off nether underwear in uncontrollable lust or humping up the bedclothes in orgasmic frolics. The bottom left-hand corner of the stage also lights up: the ceiling of the basement flat where Gilbert, a postman by profession, handyman by inclination and secret adorer of Barbara, is doing a Michelangelo by secretly painting her, vast and nude, over his living quarters.
The instant loathing between the briskly unemotional landlady and her temporary guest, Hamish, hints at the ever perverse Ayckbourn's intentions. They are wildly, passionately, uncontrollably attracted; and the nub of the play charts the delicate shaded area between love and lust; and - typical Ayckbourn - the hilarious destruction of innocent bystanders.
First among these is the abandoned fiancée, Nikki. Ayckbourn again proves himself one of the few British playwrights to create good roles for women. Nikki, first seen in baby pink with an Alice band, is a monster of cloying girlishness. She approvingly quotes her betrothed's judgment of her as "a porcelain princess"; but also reveals a past of battered abuse - flying plates, being locked in cupboards - that prompts her innocently to wonder whether she is a born victim.
Sally Giles's nauseating brilliance is offset by Joanna Van Gyseghem's gruff Barbara, the head prefect whose nickname was "Spike", now buttoned-up and brusque; so repressed that she barks "why?" when complimented on her appearance. In a scene comparable to the wife's breakdown in Just Between Ourselves Barbara talks of her career, her office, her boss, his "devastatingly beautiful" wife, lovely children, huge house, while struggling against the hysteria of loneliness and frustration before making a break for the bedroom with a cursory if proper "excuse me!"
Like Coward, Ayckbourn is a master of keeping the verbal plates spinning in the air while the plot is at standstill. The conclusion at first suggests a bleak loneliness for all concerned, then a happy ending for the improbable Beatrice and Benedick. But the final embrace of the ill-assorted lovers leaves us wondering, as the wily author doubtless intends, about the chances of happiness for Barbara, the tempestuous sexual noviciate, and Hamish, with his track record of broken relationships. Forget Sartre: Ayckbourn's comedies, so often prompting guilty laughter at others' pain, long ago proved that hell is other people, even as they blunder mistakenly on the road to heaven."
(Financial Times, 3 May 1997)
Lust Will Out When The Loathing Begins (by Ivor Smullen)
"If a man and woman hate each other at first sight, it is axiomatic (at least, in the world of fiction) that, sooner or later, they will tumble into bed together.
In Things We Do For Love, Alan Ayckbourn transforms this familiar theme into a play - his 52nd - brimming with humour and humanity.
Joanna Van Gyseghem is Barbara, a frosty, single woman of a certain age. who is so house-proud it hurts.
A dedicated cushion-plumper, she keeps in one corner of her lounge an ornamental chair in which her guests sit at their peril.
She has converted the house into flats, and in the basement lives a garrulous postman (Barry McCarthy) who does odd jobs for her and proves to be something of an oddity himself. On his ceiling he paints a nude picture of Barbara and when she hands him her old clothes to carry to Oxfam, he dons one of her designer dresses for his own delectation.
The upstairs room is let to an apparently devoted, engaged couple. The girl is Nikki (Sally Giles), giggly and immature, whose previous lover understandably locked her in the wardrobe. Her fiancé, Hamish (Cameron Stewart) is everything Barbara despises. He is a vegetarian, which means he is a wimp. Even worse, he is Scottish, putting him beyond redemption.
The disgust is mutual, and even when Barbara and Hamish fall into one another's arms, their original antagonism seems to burn more fiercely than ever.
Since Barbara's room occupies most of the set, we see only the lower half of the upstairs flat. Our vision is thus usually confined to its occupants' feet. Far from limiting, this strangely seems to add a fresh dimension.
The acting in this cracker of an Ayckbourn four-hander is uniformly top-notch, and tile performance of Joanna Van Gyseghem is especially devastating. She does not miss a nuance, and hers could prove the comedy performance of the year."
(Sunday Express, 4 May 1997)
Ayckbourn Is Back On Form (by Charles Spencer)
"I turned up for Sir Alan Ayckbourn's 52nd play , feeling distinctly anxious. Over the past 30 years this great man has given more pleasure to more people than any other living dramatist. But recently his work has been alarmingly uneven. There was a dire comedy thriller at Chichester last year, which should never have reached the stage.
It is excellent to report that Things We Do for Love finds the master back in sprightly mid-season form. It's not great Ayckbourn, like The Norman Conquests, Woman in Mind and A Small Family Business, but it is tremendously enjoyable Ayckbourn. I laughed a lot, and my laughter was accompanied by huge relief.
The playwright is up to his ingenious tricks again. Though the stage in the McCarthy auditorium is small, Roger Glossop's beautifully designed set shows three flats on three floors. We see the two foot space immediately below the ceiling in the basement, and the two feet above the floor on the upper level.
Ayckbourn fills these slit like spaces with mischievous fun. In the basement, a character is painting a huge picture of a nude on the ceiling, lying on his back on a plank like Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. In the bedroom on the upper floor we watch all kinds of amorous hanky-panky - though our view is restricted to toes and knees of the eager participants.
The play is a bedroom farce with bruises, both emotional and physical. Barbara (the excellent Joanna Van Gyseghem), who owns all three flats, is a spiky, no-nonsense spinster who has put her life into an emotional deep-freeze. In the basement, Gilbert, a sad fetishistic postman (a desolately funny Barry McCarthy), is obsessed with her. It's a nude Barbara he's painting: he also collects her underwear.
At the start of the play, Barbara lets the first-floor flat to her old school chum Nikki and Nikki's new fiancé, Hamish, to whom Barbara takes an instant dislike. But comic hostility turns first to lust, then love.
The play is funny, but painful too. "It's the old triangle, corny as hell but it happens," observes Hamish (Cameron Stewart), but Ayckbourn gives the familiar a distinctive spin. Poor old Gilbert, one of those appallingly lonely people you simultaneously pity and shy away from, is as devastated by the affair as the betrayed Nikki, a fearful, childlike blonde who smiles so desperately she can hardly speak.
As Nikki, Sally Giles gives a marvellous, disturbing performance as one of life's victims. As she gushes and simpers and recalls her schooldays with Barbara, the senior prefect she had a crush on, you almost understand why her former husband locked her in cupboards and broke her jaw. You feel like shaking her yourself. Yet when she learns of the affair, her laughing disbelief followed by dawning desperation are awful to behold.
Ayckbourn directs his own play with panache, though I could have done with more passion and less farce in the sex scenes, and a more authentically vicious fight at the end. For though the play superficially resembles a sitcom, Things We Do for Love cuts surprisingly deep."
(Daily Telegraph, 1 May 1997)
Gentle Return To Form (by Jeremy Kingston)
"Last year Alan Ayckbourn took a couple of early works that had done poorly first time around and jigged them into good shape for revival. This comedy (at the Stephen Joseph Theatre) is therefore his first truly new adult play for some while, and it differs from his recent work in several respects. There are no leaps across ordinary continuity or supernatural agencies, and although he pulls a good trick with dimensions, this is to do with space not time.
A man and a woman meet one evening in October, detest each other on sight, and accordingly fall in love. Painful crisis follows ludicrous crisis, and so on for a fortnight, the days succeeding one another in the way we expect from normal life, but do not always find in Ayckbourn.
The dimensional trick requires a proscenium arch staging, and thus breaks a tradition of 30-something years: hitherto, all Scarborough premieres of his plays have been in the round and redirected on transfer.* The reason for the change is that Ayckbourn wants to show us a vertical cut through a building. Most of the action takes place in the flat Barbara has created in the main body of her former house.
Gilbert lodges downstairs and she offers the top flat to Nikki and Hamish, an old schoolfriend and her fiancé. All we see of their flat is the bottom yard of it, revealing no more than their legs as they walk, or their feet when they lie on the bed, and all we see of the basement is the top yard of it, the ceiling where Gilbert, like Michelangelo lying on his back, is painting a vast naked portrait of Barbara. "There's acres of the woman!" Hamish exclaims after lugging the drunken Gilbert back to the place. Some communal stairways are included in Roger Glossop's set, but the three flats occupy the greater part of the stage, looking something like a section of film where the frames have slipped.
As you would expect, Ayckbourn ingeniously uses the two tinier strips of the setting. Barry McCarthy's Gilbert is crouched down beside the top flat's radiator at the start of the play, and the frenzied love-making that brings the first half to a multiple climax is teasingly not quite visible.
I couldn't honestly believe that Cameron Stewart's otherwise sensible Hamish would have saddled himself with such a dippy English rose as Nikki, a girl who cannot just sit on a chair, but must tuck her feet up on the cushion and pull her skirt round them. Sally Giles gives her that weird characteristic that some gushy women have of speaking without parting their teeth.
Joanna Van Gyseghem's spinster Barbara memorably starts sniffling when describing her boss's country home, and at the "w" of swimming pool bursts into tears. Ayckbourn turns her into a rather too ready victim of Eros, but he also writes tenderly of love and most touchingly provides a compassionate scene between the two men. This is Ayckbourn in clever yet kindly mood."
(The Times, 1 May 1997)
Things We Do For Love (by Lyn Gardner)
"Alan Ayckbourn's 52nd play is about how much love hurts, and how easily it can wreck lives, friendship, homes, sense of self and even moral values. It sounds like classic Ayckbourn territory, but it is very much on the light side, with Ayckbourn the director so determined to send up Ayckbourn the writer that you never really get to weep with either laughter or tears.
Joanna Van Gysegham is Barbara, a neat and tidy middle-aged single woman who still behaves like the senior prefect, barking at men, vegetarians and anyone who doesn't fit into the neat little pattern of her life. She gave up on sex after a single encounter, and now moons hopelessly after her boss.
Then back into her life comes Nikki, the former St Gert's fourth-former with a crush on her. Nikki has spent 12 years in Norway being a battered wife and is now blooming with love for Hamish. The pair move into Barbara's top-floor flat and the kind of hostilities breakout between landlady and Hamish that can only signal sexual attraction.
Ayckbourn examines the fascinating split between so-called civilised behaviour and animal instinct, including one hilarious moment when Barbara and Hamish try to synchronise diaries to find a date to break the news to Nikki that she has been dumped.
He is terrific, too, on the selfishness of love. What surprises most, though, is he should be happy to fall back on such stereotypical views of womanhood. While Hamish, for example, is just a good ordinary bloke caught up in love, the women are portrayed very differently. Barbara is little more than the dried-up, sexually frustrated spinster of popular fiction, while Nikki, played by Sally Giles, is not a woman at all, but a fluff talking, pastel-shaded bath mat who lets everyone walk all over her. Yet again, it is the women who are to blame."
(The Guardian, 7 May 1997)
Things We Do For Love (by David Jeffels)
"After adopting an entirely different stance, in some of his more recent plays, Alan Ayckbourn has returned to the style which has won him most admirers for nearly 40 years.
This 52nd work at the Stephen Joseph by the newly knighted playwright is a gem, packed with brilliant humour in inimitable Ayckbourn style, with the subservient, the curt and the gushingly amiable each shining forth in a play which will doubtless be delighting the audiences of the West End in the near future.
The story centres around the highly-strung Barbara, a company executive who has relationship problems at work and discovers new ones when her old school friend, Nikki (delightfully played by Sally Giles) moves in to the top floor flat in her converted home with her fiancé. But a terse situation suddenly takes a dramatic turn - and a relationship hits the deck.
Joanna Van Gyseghem, returning to Scarborough after scoring a hit there last summer in Wild Honey, is superb as Barbara. Her impeccable timing and mannerisms made the play an instant hit. Her early dislike for Nikki's fiancé, the vegetarian Hamish (a great performance by Cameron Stewart) turns from an acerbic attitude to lust, when she confides that her only sexual encounter was with the caretaker's son at school. But she discovers to her horror, from best friend Nikki, that not only did half the pupils know of her secret assignation, but they lived in fear of her domination.
As with many of his plays, Ayckbourn, in contrast to the strident woman, has created a wonderful male character with a naive sense of humour in Gilbert, who is besotted with the lady of the house. Barry McCarthy, an old favourite at the SJT, gives one of his best performances yet on the Scarborough stage.
This is classic Ayckbourn, studying individuals and their weaknesses in relationships, especially when it comes to love.
Roger Glossop is to be commended for his well-designed set for in the play, which is directed by Ayckbourn himself, while Wolf Christian is responsible for the convincing fight direction (perhaps a little too convincing and for me, the only downside of the play!), Mick Hughes for the lighting and John Pattison for the original music."
(The Stage, 22 May 1997)
Vintage Performance From Ayckbourn (by Charles Hutchinson)
"After the unseemly luvvies versus lavvies debacle and North Yorkshire County Council's slap in the face, the focus returns once more to Scarborough's most prized export, Sir Alan Ayckbourn.
Not that his 52nd play has escaped unscathed from the winter of council discontent. The wounds have cut deep enough for theatre's newest knight to write a four-hander - a labour-saving device that this skilful comic craftsman uses to advantage in his taut study of the damaging effects of sudden passion, on those involved and those around them. The "new Ayckbourn" is a return to the fertile ground of the old Ayckbourn, the Ayckbourn of middle-class domestic disputes played out on sets as ingenious as a Chinese puzzle, and why not. There is surely still room for some froth to go with the bitter espresso of the Ayckbourn Eighties and Nineties.
The setting is a South West London house, converted into three cramped flats by careerist Barbara (Joanna Van Gyseghem), a confirmed non-practitioner of sex and friendship. She lives in orderly fashion on the middle floor; lonely postman and occasional plumber Gilbert (Barry McCarthy) lives downstairs in solitary obsession, painting her naked portrait on his ceiling. The upstairs flat is empty: a perfect bolthole for Nikki (Sally Giles), Barbara's oldest school-friend, to bed down with Scottish fiancé Hamish (Cameron Stewart) while work is completed on their new house. "Oldest friend", however, may he something of an exaggeration: they haven't seen each other for 11 years, and the age gap at school, when spiky Barbara was the senior prefect and sweet, innocent, victimised Nikki had a crush on the spike girl, has never closed. Nevertheless, the short October stay seems an ideal solution, until Hamish, with his taste for vegetarianism and dodgy clothes, takes an instant dislike to the ever intolerant Barbara. Yet that animosity hides deeper feelings. Or put it another way, they can't resist having sex.
Ayckbourn's character studies are as astute as ever; with wonderfully involving performances to match, especially from Van Gyseghem and McCarthy.
For once not staged in the Round, the set is another joy. The top floor is seen only from waist level down; the bottom one is represented only by a stairway and an ceiling space. Clever, indeed. This is Ayckbourn to please Vintage fans."
(Yorkshire Evening Press, 30 April 1997)
Love And Laughs In Classic Ayckbourn (by Simon Murgatroyd)
"With all the recent controversy surrounding the Stephen Joseph Theatre, a stylish and positive start to the new season was a necessity.
Style in spades is what is delivered with Sir Alan Ayckbourn's Things We Do For Love, easily his best play in Scarborough since the revival of The Norman Conquests four years ago.
It is a welcome return to classic Ayckbourn territory, although it never quite goes how you expect.
Set in a three-storey flat, it sees resolutely single Barbara putting up an old school-friend and her fiancé, Hamish.
But when Barbara meets Hamish, it's hate at first sight. Or is it?
What evolves is a love triangle - possibly square, if you include the downstairs occupant's infatuation with Barbara - that is hilariously funny.
Being Ayckbourn, you just know people are going to get hurt though, but as passions are literally unleashed, you're kept guessing as to who.
Ayckbourn's script is his strongest for some time, going from one emotional extreme to another - including some painfully guilty laughs! Despite a slow but humorous start, it then hits its stride and becomes a genuine joy.
The other strength - aside from an ingenious set - is a strong cast. Joanna Van Gyseghem's wonderfully spiky Barbara, Sally Giles' "born victim", Cameron Stewart's duplicitous Hamish, and Barry McCarthy's Gilbert all but steals the show with a classic drunken monologue.
Fans of good comedy are more than well catered for here and for all the miserable nay-sayers out there who view theatre as elitist and inaccessible, this is entertainment at its most accessible. Frankly, you would need to have a humour bypass not to enjoy it.
Things We Do For Love is Ayckbourn back in sparkling form - showing that recent problems for the theatre have not dampened his sense of fun or blunted his ability to serve up a sharply observed slice of love's trials and tribulations.
Immense fun and deserves to be a massive hit."
(Scarborough Evening News, 30 April 1997)
* Note: Although several reviews indicate this was only Alan Ayckbourn's second play intended for the end-stage, it was actually his fourth after Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business & Haunting Julia.
All reviews are copyright of the respective publication.