Written by Alan Ayckbourn in 1997 this is a play that masquerades as a comedy but actually explores relationships, love and loss all rolled into one. As with most Ayckbourn there is a functionality to the proceedings rather than a real emotional depth with a script that moves the plot along nicely enough but never really offers tension or drama. There is comedy but only ever enough to raise a wry smile rather than a good old chuckle, and there are moments of sincerity but never enough to pluck at the heart strings.
Set in a terraced house in suburban London prickly and starched Barbara is letting the top floor flat out to old school chum Nikki and her beau Hamish. Hamish takes an immediate dislike to his new landlady and thereby the line is drawn, that very fine line that is love and hate. It doesn’t take long for a passionate tryst to take place between Barbara and Hamish and relationships are instantly formed as well as destroyed. Watching it all unfold in oddly stalkerish tones is the resident of the downstairs flat Gilbert whose unhealthy obsession displays itself with disturbing absurdity.
The cast of four all put in a huge amount of effort to breathe life into Laurence Boswell’s production. Claire Price as Barbara gives a nicely clipped and public school edge to Barbara, someone who lacks the social skills to allow the social life that she so badly needs. Edward Bennett adequately navigates his character through the water of caring modern man and cheating chauvinist well. Whilst there is no great sense of passion between them there is quite possibly the best fight scene that I have ever seen between the two of them expertly directed by fight director Kate Waters.
In her stage debut as Nikki Australian soap star turned pop star Natalie Imbruglia makes a great first outing. She manages to nail the comedy moments and is the one that genuinely touches the most as she is betrayed by both her best friend and her lover. Hopefully this won’t be the last time we see her on one of our stages. Simon Gregor manages to turn the dark underbelly of Gilbert into comedy gold with a well crafted comic turn that holds the whole piece together. With a wonderfully wobbly drunk scene he gives us the physical comedy as well as the light heartedness that keeps the whole evening so much more watchable.
On a set that cleverly shows snapshots of both the flat above as well as the flat below this is a play that never really takes off and ultimately leaves you strangely wanting just a little bit more in order to allow us to care for the characters. As it is you come away feeling untouched and a little unsatisfied.