October 08, 2009

Adelaide Theatre

Things We Do For Love
By Alan Ayckbourn
State Theatre Company of South Australia
Dunstan Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre.
October 6. Tickets $45 – $60. Bookings BASS 131 246
Until October 17, 2009

While it is the chirpy Seventies tune from 10CC which lends its name to State Theatre’s latest offering, it is another song used in the production – Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart – which equally matches the mood of the play.
The prolific Alan Ayckbourn is always setting difficult formal and thematic tasks for himself. He sets his acerbically observed middle class comedy dramas around meal times and the seasons, he unfolds plots on the roll of a dice. In his highly-wrought texts there is always a challenge and a conundrum to be solved.

In Things We Do For Love, his 51st play first performed in 1997, Ayckborn has prescribed that the action take place in a London terrace house on a three-tiered stage where we see only the lower half of the performers on the top floor and their heads and shoulders in the basement. This means we have glimpses, but not a full take, of the bedroom exchanges and intimacies of some characters and the secret and solitary life of others.

The play appears conventional enough – Barbara is approaching forty and determinedly single, and her orderly career schedule is only upset when old school friend, Nikki and her fiancé, Hamish move in for a few weeks while their own house is renovated. Watching these events unfold is Gilbert, a postman who rents the basement and maintains a courtly, unrequited love for Barbara.

It is not entirely surprising, in the enforced conviviality of the arrangement, that opposites begin to attract and Hamish and Barbara begin a torrid affair. Also, in the turbulence, Gilbert can no longer conceal that his devotion extends to painting a large nude painting of his neighbour on his ceiling and cross-dressing in her clothes.

Assisted by Dean Hill’s diagrammatic, kit-set décor, director Michael Hill creditably manages the nearly two and a half hours of exposition. Caroline Mignone’s Barbara is both comically assured and disturbingly vulnerable, strongly supported by Elena Carapetis’ fluttery Nikki, Andrew Tighe, excellent as the fickle opportunist Hamish, and Brendan Rock, dignified as the abject Gilbert.

But these performances do not reconcile Ayckbourn’s querulous mix of comedy and pessimism, nor are they intended to. The things people do for love include cruelty, betrayal, even taking to each other with fists and rolling pins. It is an unsettling subversion of the easy mechanics of the familiar ménage comedy, and an indication of Ayckbourn’s originality, that we seem to be watching one kind of play and end up with quite another. There is no solace in romantic victory here, only the bleak certainty of more to be revealed.

Murray Bramwell

The Australian October 8, 2009.

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