Alan Ayckbourn’s plays are known for their frank reflections of the relationships between human beings, portrayed by moments of hilarity and a veritable tragic tinge.
His 1997 work, Things We Do For Love, is a fine example of this.
Being performed at the Theatre Royal Nottingham this week, it is set in a three-storey town house in Fulham which is owned by Barbara, an uptight spinster who thinks she has no need for a man.
She rents out the basement flat to a rather strange postman called Gilbert, who is handy but has an almost sinister secret obsession with her, while the first floor flat is being lived in temporarily by old schoolfriend Nikki and her new fiance Hamish.
Such is the staging of the play that we have full view of Barbara’s pristine apartment but see only a foot or so above the floor of the flat above and the foot below the ceiling of the one below.
This adds to the comedy and works brilliantly when we see Gilbert painting his ceiling ‘Michelangelo’ style with a rather risque image of the object of his affection, and when the bedroom action upstairs is made all the more funny due to what you cannot see and what you can hear.
Barbara and Nikki are polar opposites on the personality scale but have kept in touch through thick and thin since their school days.
Where Barbara, played by Claire Price, is strong, independent and... spiky, Nikki, played by Natalie Imbruglia on her stage debut - is sweet, insecure and wonders if she is a born victim.
Being suspicious of men, Barbara instantly dislikes Hamish, especially because he is a Scot and a vegetarian.
But there is just a thin line between love and hate and it is not long before the pair are overcome with their emotions and poor innocent Nikki - and Gilbert - are made to suffer.
Price is outstanding as Claire - she has just the right balance of strength and vulnerability and carries off the ‘control freak gone mad with love’ role brilliantly.
Edward Bennett as Hamish somehow doesn’t make you hate him for cheating on the lovely Nikki and the physical fight he and Barbara have is perfectly choreographed and completely hilarious in its absurdity.
Because Imbruglia is already so well known, the pressure to perform may have been on, but she doesn’t let it show and is convincing and endearing in her heartbreak.
A final mention goes to Simon Gregor, who as Gilbert, has the audience laughing out loud again and again. He plays drunk very well and the way he says ‘Barbara’ is side-splitting.
Things We Do for Love is on until Saturday.