High praise for high rise living
The Things We Do for Love
Highbury Theatre Centre
THIS is the first time I have seen an Alan Ayckbourn play and been less impressed by the plot than by the set.
This is in no way to decry either the play or an excellent company of four: just me trying to say that the action takes place on a tiny stage – in three flats on three floors, and that the way in which designer Malcolm Robertshaw and his team from the Highbury workshop have pulled out all the stops so that we do actually see three floors is astonishing.
I have never seen this slice of the Ayckbourn catalogue before, and I don't know how other productions have tackled the challenge it presents, or indeed whether the playwright has given precise instructions on how it should be staged. What I do know is that this is one of the most impressive sets I have seen. It's a mighty miracle on a pocket handkerchief.
The flat on the bottom floor is in fact under the stage, with a specially constructed staircase as its approach; the one on the floor above is on the stage; and the top floor flat is reached by a long staircase and has a floor strong enough to be walked on – a floor, moreover, that is provided with a viewing hole through which we are able to see what goes on up to knee level. It's excellent. Quite remarkable.
But stage walls – the sort that are largely cut away and are simply representational – are not to be trusted. On the night I went, a cushion was thrown in the ground-floor flat – and went straight into the lobby, via the bit of wall that wasn't by the front door.
Most of the plot centres on the middle-aged Barbara (Dee White) and Hamish (Richard Irons), who is attracted to her so strongly that we are waiting to see whether he is going to leave his young wife, Nikki (Julie Waddell), after Barbara has provided them with the upstairs flat until their house becomes available.
Heavily involved, although not necessarily vital to the story, is Gilbert (Dave Douglas). He is the noisy transvestite in the bottom flat, and as long as he is down there we can only see him from the neck up.
He is well in view, however, by the time he has got a broken leg – his contribution to a scene in which one of the other characters has a black eye and a broken arm and another has a head in bandages. They could have come straight from Saturday night in the A & E.
This is not by any means one of Ayckbourn's funniest plays, although Dave Douglas makes the most of the possibilities. No, the inter-action it demands is too intense for that, and Dee White is required to lay on the angst with a trowel, with plenty of sobbing to support what appears to be a very short fuse, so that we have Barbara tagged as a bit of a prude whose defences are suddenly down.
Richard Irons, similarly, is encased in a fiery character for whom, in general, life is real and life is earnest and life is vegetarian. Julie Waddell, however, has an attractive innocent sparkle which she deploys to excellent effect as the reassuringly uncomplicated Nikki charms her “Big Bear” in the early stages.
This is an evening of excellence, quite superbly
packaged by the backstage wizards. So superbly packaged, indeed, that it
has been staged as the first production after the summer lay-off –
because nowhere else in the season would give sufficient breathing-space
to build this splendid set. To 2.10. 10
John Sli m
373 2761 (see website for times)
373 2761 (see website for times)
(see website for times)