Writer: Neil Simon
Director: Stephen Fletcher
Reviewer: Jamie Gaskin
In an entertainment world seemingly obsessed with action it was terrific to tumble back to the days when a well-crafted script was the cornerstone of a stage production. The choice of this play by the legendary Neil Simon, who has received more Tony Awards that any other writer, was,well … a ray of sunshine.
The gritty New York Jewish humour produced by Life in Theatre Productions took only moments to win over the Liverpool audience. Like an old married couple always sparring (a feature of Simon’s own parents) Willie Clark and Al Lewis couldn’t live together but eventually couldn’t live apart. Having been up there with the comedy greats of Vaudeville the duo suffer an acrimonious split only to find themselves thrown together 40 years on when a lucrative TV offer seduces their wallets and massages their egos.
Homegrown talent Andrew Schofield, a staple of Scouse drama on stage and TV slipped effortlessly into the rôle of the rather dapper but now delicate and slightly dippy Lewis. Making the part his own he clearly enjoys the hesitant movements on stage offering sparkling well-timed humour sandwiched between the odd bout of senility.
Alan Stocks is perfect as Clark bouncing about the stage like a spoiled child on Speed. Clark’s bubbling cauldron of anger providing the fire which keeps the action moving. Stocks’ commanding presence equalling the delicious over-the-top performance of Zero Mostel as Max Bialystock in another American comedy classic The Producers.
It is typical of Simon to mine other seams of comedy: When the two rehearse their Vaudeville sketch we are zipped back in time to the days when outrageous sexist jokes about bouncy bimbo blondes being ogled by lecherous sweaty fat men would have made even Benny Hill blush.
While the cartoon-esque nature of the scene with Helen Carter as the sexy nurse serves to underscore the modern horror at such material I’m sure many of us enjoy a trip down memory lane. Carter’s sweet innocence contrasts wonderfully with the lascivious dribbling of Clark. Again humour which demands superb delivery and a conviction of character, a quality present throughout the show.
As well as producing and directing, Stephen Fletcher took on the rôle of Ben, Clark’s nephew and his agent, acting as the marriage broker willing the pair to go through with the reunion performance. He was the perfect straight man for this three-handed comedy act. As director Flechter allows many of the twists and turns of the pairs rivalry to be delivered in a way that adds zest to the moment, creating an intimacy with the audience and drawing them firmly into the story.