There has been plenty of offstage drama surrounding Treats. The opening night was postponed by a week and speculation has been rife about the indisposition of its leading lady, Billie Doctor Who Piper. Was it nerves? Was it illness? In the end, on the press night, Piper did a pretty good job. And, in terms of making the piece work, she’s not the problem: the play is.

Christopher Hampton has said he wrote this 1976 drama after working on A Doll’s House. He wanted to explore a modern relationship in which the woman did the opposite of Nora and went back to a destructive man. And there’s no doubt that, even after decades of feminism, women do still stick with abusive partners. Why they do so is certainly worth exploring. And Hampton raises interesting questions about the nature of sexual attraction. The problem is that this neat mathematical comedy goes nowhere near answering them.

Ann (Piper) is an attractive young woman, who is torn between her promiscuous ex-lover Dave (Kris Marshall) and her new man, Patrick (Laurence Fox). Dave is a swaggering, manipulative journalist, who, once he discovers that Ann has found someone else, goes all out to get her back. Patrick is an agreeable chap with the personality of a carpet who does nothing to stop him. Dave bullies and brags, Patrick dithers – what Ann sees in either of them is mystifying, but then she is so underwritten that what she thinks about anything is a mystery.

Updated to the present day, Laurence Boswell’s attractive production plays the comedy fast and sharp. This works, to an extent, and also makes the sudden violence and switch in mood at the end shocking and effective. And the actors are very watchable. Marshall, loose-limbed and dangerous, suggests both brute attraction and a deep- rooted insecurity. Fox is very good at being hopelessly nice. Piper works hard to contain her feisty presence within the straitjacket of her character, and is moving when she has to weep inconsolably. There’s plenty of wit here too – but not much insight.
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