Things We Do For Love: Background

In 1996, Alan Ayckbourn moved the Stephen Joseph Theatre In The Round company to its first permanent venue at the Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough. Within it, there was both an in-the-round space and an end-stage space (The McCarthy), which Alan Ayckbourn was keen not to be seen as secondary to The Round. As a result of this he wrote only his fourth play for the end-stage (after Bedroom Farce, A Small Family Business and Haunting Julia).

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 set ingeniously shows three flats (the whole of one, the ceiling of another and the floor of the third), 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'.

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.

Written to play to the strengths of The McCarthy auditorium (a wide, but narrow stage space), the play also marked the first time Alan had written a play dealing with the growing - arguably now prevalent - 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.

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 short-lived Lloyds Private Banking Playwright Of The Year Award (Alan was the first and last winner). 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.

Copyright: Simon Murgatroyd. Please do not reproduce without permission of the copyright holder.