The Lowry, Salford
Were he not already Britain’s greatest living playwright you can’t help thinking Sir Alan Ayckbourn might well have followed a career in architecture.
So many of his 78 plays take delight in their setting as much as they do in how humans then design their own lives amidst such spaces.
It’s certainly the case in this revival of his 1997 play, the one set over three floors of a Fulham home, though with just a few feet of the top and bottom floors visible above and below the main living area.
Inside this attenuated dolls’ house setting, four characters go through a skilfully choreographed Ayckbourn routine which suggests you have to work ardour to find true love...
Hamish and Nikki, the latter role giving Aussie soap star and songstress Natalie Imbruglia her UK stage debut, move into the upstairs flat of old school friend Barbara, and she and Hamish take an instant dislike to each other.
Meanwhile, lovelorn postman Gilbert, in the ground floor flat, positively fetishises over the buttoned-up Barbara.
As always with Ayckbourn plays, you have to marvel at the construct of it all, even if – as in this case – there’s more to admire about the property than the people within it.
It’s no plot spoiler to reveal that Hamish and Barbara find an accommodation to their loathing, but the suddenness of this revelation shakes the play’s foundations somewhat.
And while Claire Price, as Barbara, skilfully conveys a controlled sherry-fuelled descent into breakdown, director Laurence Boswell allows Simon Gregor, as Gilbert, to arrive on set as some sort of sozzled Norman Wisdom. The initial audience laughs soon fade away in an excruciatingly-overplayed role.
Edward Bennett is much more at home as hapless Hamish while Ms Imbruglia neatly suits the artless Nikki who, it transpires, had an earlier husband who threw things at her. You’d quickly want to join in.
The play continues until Saturday.