Alan Ayckbourn’s comedy Things We Do for Love, currently playing at Newport’s Dolman Theatre may be the last show of the current Newport Playgoers season, but certainly leaves the audience wanting more in terms of laughter and superb comic characterisations as the curtain falls.
The play follows the comic interplay between four characters on three levels of the same building simultaneously.
Head-strong, determined and career-driven, home-owner Barbara is successful in everything but love. Living in her basement is lodger and resident handyman, Gilbert, a widow who unknowingly to Barbara is making an unusual shrine to his own hidden desire. Meanwhile, Barbara’s old school-friend Nikki and her Scottish fiancé, Hamish, have moved into the upstairs flat. Despite Barbara’s closeness with Nikki, Barbara’s hostile reaction to Hamish soon sets sparks flying. However, there’s no smoke without fire and the hostility is soon revealed to be masking embers of forbidden desires!
There are several challenges to the staging of Things We Do for Love. Although the main action takes place in Barbara’s flat (which takes prominence on the stage), the upstairs flat is largely masked off from the view of the audience. Presenting a view of approximately 12 inches from ground level, the flat scenes reveal only the ankles of those that enter it and the base of the bed for any farcical events that may (or may not) occur. It is therefore down to the actors to vocally project their characters strongly through the scenes taking place, whilst applying character detail as to how they walk or hold a pose. Similarly, scenes taking place in the basement (situated in the orchestra pit) depend on strong vocal characterisations and facial reactions when the characters become visible.
Director Richard Dymond has ensured the events taking place on all levels run concurrently, resulting in slick choreography across all three levels of the set from the performers vocally and physically as they maintain strong interaction for the plot to develop.
The characterisations themselves are strongly defined as well as entertaining. Combining femme-fatale with a quintessential school mistress, Gwen Livingstone brings the magnificent flame-haired, spikey Barbara to life. Miss Livingstone’s comedic pacing contrasts disastrous dinner-party drunkenness to the aggressive unleashing of her characters sexual awakening. Desirable and forthright while rude and controlling, her portrayal is comedy brilliance and enjoyable to watch.
Ros Hannam as Barbara’s ditsy former school friend Nikki clearly has fun with a character that combines the subtlety of a sledgehammer with innocence and honesty. There is also an edge of tragedy to Nikki of which Miss Hannam works well into the ongoing story bringing an endearing warmness to her role.
Jes Hynes is the “suspiciously smooth” Scotsman Hamish who finds himself caught between the ever-conflicting emotions and affections of both Barbara and Nikki. Hynes really gets into the sardonic wit and dour demeanour of Hamish with energy and fun. His exchanges and reactions with Gwen Livingstone’s Barbara catapult his characters hormones and frustration to boiling point producing further comedy gold.
Adding further touches of comedy is Stephen Hopkins as Gilbert who wins over the audience by largely bemoaning the state of the flats pipe system in the plays opening moments. Hopkins makes the most of Gilberts loud but likable character with some nicely timed visual gags including drunken pratfalls and the reveal of a private obsession.
Things We Do for Love is not only the name of a tight, strong, fast-paced and fun comedy presentation but also an apt description of the commitment the cast and crew have maintained to bring this unmissable gem to the Dolman Theatre stage.
Things We Do for Love continues at Newport’s Dolman Theatre until June 15, 2019.