Things We Do For Love: History

In 1996, the Stephen Joseph Theatre was opened to the public for the first time. It marked the first time the company founded by Stephen Joseph in 1955 - and run by Alan Ayckbourn since 1972 - had been based in a permanent, purpose-designed space. Built in the shell of Scarborough's former Odeon cinema, the theatre featured two performance spaces, The Round and the end-stage The McCarthy.
Behind The Scenes: Inspirations
Alan Ayckbourn was inspired to write the play’s memorable sex scene by the Clint Eastwood movie In The Line Of Fire, where the actor and Rene Russo have a love scene filmed at their feet, as Alan said: “It's a wonderful sex scene and I thought I'd love to shoot a stage play from the feet!".
Alan was determined that The McCarthy would not be seen as a secondary or studio space within the building, hoping it would operate on an equal footing with The Round. As a result, he decided his first 'adult' play in the new building would be written specifically for The McCarthy; the previous year he had written the 'family' play The Champion Of Paribanou for The Round.

There was also an element of expediency to the decision. The start of 1997 had seen the theatre become embroiled in a very public and vicious spat with Scarborough Borough Council over the funding of the new venue. At the end of 1996, the theatre was facing a funding shortfall and threatened with funding cuts which would have closed the new building. Into this, it was incorrectly reported that Scarborough Borough Council had to make a decision between funding the theatre or the town's public toilets (the two were actually funded by entirely separate budgets and had no effect on the other) and was dubbed '
luvvies vs lavvies'. Despite it being a complete fiction, it was promoted by the media and several councillors opposed to the SJT and the theatre was faced with calls to drastically cut its budget; one suggestion of which was to close The McCarthy. Alan Ayckbourn responded by writing a piece specifically for that space which went on to break performance records in the theatre and to play to packed houses for its entire run.
Behind The Scenes: End Stage Plays
Things We Do For Love is one of only five of Alan Ayckbourn's plays specifically written for the end-stage. The others are Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business, Haunting Julia and Virtual Reality. Although House and Jeeves were also first staged in the end-stage, they were not written to be specifically performed in this staging; just to confuse matters both Bedroom Farce and Haunting Julia have also been staged in-the-round!
As a result, Things We Do For Love is written specifically for the end-stage and - alongside A Small Family Business - are the only Ayckbourn plays which cannot be performed in-the-round like the majority of his work. It was also conceived with the challenging dimensions of The McCarthy in mind - a particularly wide, but not deep, stage. His solution was to create a three-storey building which showed the complete living room of the middle floor, the top few feet of the flat below and the bottom few feet of the bedroom above.

Things We Do For Love is a return to classic Ayckbourn territory, centring on the love triangle between two women and one man - although the unrequited passion of the downstair’s lodger possibly makes it a love square! The play is set over two weeks and compared to Alan's preceding recent plays, is relatively straightforward. The ingenious set allowing some clever visual humour.

As an Ayckbourn play, it is notable for actually being a relatively positive - or perhaps more accurately, unsentimental - view of relationships, despite the pain and violence it takes to get there. The play does not flinch from showing love with warts and all and juggles laughs with moments of stark, brutal emotion; the climatic fight and its resolution did generate a little initial controversy in reviews, but within the context of what has gone before, it was neither gratuitous or out of character. In his excellent appraisal of the play in
A Pocket Guide To Alan Ayckbourn's Plays, the author Paul Allen notes the violence was shocking not only because it was a new experience for Ayckbourn audiences, but also for the reason the characters are "educated, fluent and articulate people behaving as if they had no control over their actions." Alan himself has said part of the inspiration for the play was his experiences of friends reaching middle-age in apparently stable relationships, which are then brushed aside just when many people think they are past the impulsive tendencies of 'love'.
Behind The Scenes: Swearing
The Ayckbourn Archive holds more than its fair share of letters protesting swearing in Alan Ayckbourn's plays, the vast majority of writers noting he didn't use to feel the need to have characters swear in his 'classic' plays. Actually, he did. Characters swearing have been a fixture of Alan's plays since Confusions in 1974 and you'd be hard-pressed to find a play since then (even the 'family' plays) where someone doesn't swear at some point.
Things We Do For Love is also the first Ayckbourn play to feature a strong swear word when Hamish describes Barbara as a 'fucking bitch'. Again, within the context of the play, it is not gratuitous and entirely within character; it's also interesting as this happens early in the play rather than later in the play when the relationships turn sour and harsh language might be expected, but does not occur.

The play also marked the first time Alan had written a play dealing with the increasingly common social development of people who live on their own; much play is made of the fact this is specifically Barbara's flat and the space of a single person not having to accommodate other people for any length of time. Paul Allen also notes the scene where Nikki cuts up all her fiancé's clothes was inspired by an actual event involving the sister of a colleague.

The play opened at the Stephen Joseph Theatre and was an extraordinary success, running for more than 100 predominantly sold-out performances; the first (and so far only) play at the new venue to have such an extensive run. The original cast of Joanna van Gyseghem, Cameron, Stewart and Barry McCarthy were kept intact throughout the run with only the original Nikki - Sally Giles - having to leave due to pregnancy, being replaced by Teresa Gallagher.
Behind The Scenes: First & Last
Rather bizarrely, Alan Ayckbourn essentially holds the Lloyds Private Banking Playwright Of The Year Award in perpetuity. This was because he was the first recipient of this short-lived award - so short, that he was the only recipient as it was never awarded again!
Critics were practically unanimous in their praise for the play and it was an obvious choice for the West End. Alan's regular West End producer Michael Codron optioned the play and Jane Asher took on the role of Barbara and Barry McCarthy returned to his Scarborough role of Gilbert. Again the play was extremely well-received, was nominated for an Olivier and won Alan the Lloyds Private Banking Playwright Of The Year Award. In between these productions, the play went on a tour which included a visit to Brussels and a successful tour starring Belinda Lang as Barbara also followed the West End production.

It has proven to be an extremely popular play, has been adapted for the radio by the BBC and has been staged by professionals and amateurs brave enough to tackle the demands of the set. Both Faber and Samuel French have published the play with it most recently being published in the collection
Alan Ayckbourn: Plays 4 in 2011.

A major and highly acclaimed revival of the play opened in 2014 produced by the Theatre Royal Bath, directed by Laurence Boswell with Natalie Imbruglia making her stage-acting debut as Nikki. It was hoped the production would transfer to the West End following the tour, but despite approval for this from Alan Ayckbourn, the well-received play did not transfer to London.

Article by Simon Murgatroyd. Copyright: Haydonning Ltd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.
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