The Workington Playgoers recently finished the run of their production of Alan Ayckbourn’s ‘Things We Do for Love’. The play is set in the London home of the uncompromising Barbara (Nicola Woodier). Accustomed to her own routine her unyielding sense of order leaves little room for intimate relationships. So much so that at the age of forty she has never had a serious relationship with a man and has little in the way of friends and family. Among the selected few allowed in her life is her lodger Gilbert (Roy Blackburn) and her childhood friend Nikki (Rachel Holliday). However when Nikki comes to stay, she not only brings a new person into Barbara’s life, she also brings a man whose actions instigate the unravelling of all that has gone before.
This is ambitious material for The Workington Playgoers, a play that questions the nature of our relationships using comedy, sex, violence and an underlying sense of tragedy. This ambition extends beyond the substance of story to the set design itself. ‘Things We Do for Love’ is set within the three levels of a house which consist of a basement, living room, hallway and first floor flat. The play requires that these areas are continually visible to the audience and the challenges in creating such a sizable set in such a restricted space are clear to anyone who has set foot in the tiny Theatre Royal. It is the biggest set ever constructed in the Theatre Royal requiring 11ft of scaffolding.
Before the play begins the set has an undoubtedly impressive effect. However it is not without its disadvantages. The actors had to adapt the projection of their voices to be clear on every floor. The upper flat was the most restricted by the theatres confines and much more insulated than any other section of the set. Initially this made the dialogue seem quite muffled and difficult to hear. However the cast seemed to adapt and overcome the problem as the play continued so this is a minor criticism and one that I imagine was side stepped altogether later in the production run.
The cast not only conquered the difficulties relating to the structure of the set but also defied the restrictive structure of the characters themselves. At the start of Act One the characters begin as relationship stereotypes, the stern spinster, the lonely widower, the eager victim and the devoted boyfriend. However as the play develops these confined characters are revealed to be flimsy facades that soon reveal hidden depths. The cast handle such transitions and contradictions admirably and with style. Cynicism gives way to genuine belief begin as the complexity and realism of the relationships are revealed.
‘Things We Do For Love’ was a brave and unexpected choice for the Workington Playgoers. Such a play was an unusual sight to see on the Theatre Royal’s listings. Despite the fact the play deals with some difficult themes it manages to do so in an entertaining and accessible way. For theatre to have a relevant place in Workington’s culture it is essential that there is no trace of old fashioned theatre elitism and that at its heart it provides good solid entertainment. This production definitely lived up to that criteria and personally I hope it sets the precedent for similar works in the future.