The Sunshine Boys
20 - 27 July 2013
A vaudeville double act reunite with bitter rivalry.
Sat 7:45pm, Mon 7:45pm, Tue 7:45pm, Wed 7:45pm, Thu 7:45pm, Fri 7:45pm, Sat 2:45pm, Sat 7:45pm
The Sunshine Boys tells the story of a former Vaudeville double act, who are reunited for a television special after not speaking to each other for years. Their bitter rivalry is reignited in this humorous battle of two colossal egos, each unwilling to realise he relies on the other.
The 1975 film version starred Walter Matthau and George Burns. Neil Simon (The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park) typically mixes his unique brand of dry Jewish humour with pathos and poignancy but we even get a spoonful of slapstick vaudeville as well when the couple finally reunite to perform their most successful sketch.
The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon (perhaps best known for Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity) tells the story of a Vaudeville double act, Willie Clark and Al Lewis who performed together for over 40 years despite bitter rivalry. 11 years before the play opens they had fallen out for good. The play, set in the early 1970s, opens with Willie in his somewhat run-down New York apartment and it soon becomes clear that now in his 70s and not having worked for some time, he is in denial that the world has moved on. His nephew, Ben, is an agent and brings the news that CBS television are interested in screening a “History of Comedy” retrospective, but this would mean a reunion with his partner Al.
Ben does not have an easy time persuading him, but Neil Simon’s dry, Jewish wit is ever present:
Ben: You give me chest pains, Uncle Willie, I only get chest pains [when I come to see you] on Wednesdays.
Willie: So come on Tuesdays.
But eventually he agrees and Al comes to Willie’s apartment to rehearse the sketch. The memories, the miseries, the laughs, and the child-like petulance all surface again.
Act 2 is set in the television studio where the filming is taking place of one of their most well known sketches, The Doctor. This provides an opportunity for other characters, a stage manager, a patient and a buxom nurse (hired for all the wrong reasons)!
Filming is brought to an premature end as Willie, always allowing his temper to get the better of him, has a heart attack, and Act 2 Sc 2 brings us back to his apartment, where we see him being looked after by a nurse, who owns the driest wit of them all and is much more interested in eating his chocolates than nursing. The play ends with Al and Willie together again but not in the way they had intended.
“I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude.... do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting”. -- Neil Simon
Born in New York’s The Bronx in 1927, Neil Simon is one of America’s most prolific and popular writers. He’s written over 30 plays, 20 screenplays and received more Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. During a tempestuous childhood he often took refuge in movie theatres especially enjoying Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Laurel and Hardy. In 1950, after a few years in the Army Air Force Reserve, he began writing comedy scripts for radio and television shows with comedy greats such as Phil Silvers and Sid Caesar. His first play Come Blow Your Horn (1961) was performed nearly 700 times on Broadway. It was followed by Barefoot in the Park (1963) and the Tony award winning The Odd Couple (1965). During one season, he had four successful plays showing on Broadway at the same time and in 1983 became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honour.
Written in 1972, The Sunshine Boys is about the love-hate relationship between a pair of aged comedians - Willie Clark and Al Lewis. CBS contacts Willie’s long-suffering agent (who also happens to be his nephew), and invites the duo to reunite for a History of Comedy TV special. The only problem is that they haven’t spoken for over ten years after Lewis chose to retire and live with his daughter in New Jersey - a decision that Clark has never forgiven him for.
In Jenny Lloyd Lyons’ affectionate and highly enjoyable production, Tony Potter played Willie Clark who, after a successful career as half of a comedy duo, is now living out a solitary existence in his ‘one room suite’ in a downtrodden New York hotel. As ever, designer Gerry Cortese and her team really deliver the goods. Clark is still obsessed with the desire to get acting work and bombards his long-suffering nephew and agent Ben Silverman, played by Mark Pelham, with calls. Willie’s old TV has broken down yet again as Ben arrives to give his uncle his weekly copy of Variety magazine and some cans of ‘low sodium’ soup. In a very well executed first scene Tony Potter and Mark Pelham confidently owned and did justice to the rhythm and structure of Simon’s writing, and brought out the pathos and humour of the characters and their relationship. Enter Al Lewis, excellently played with mischievous passive aggression by Nigel Sharpe, and the old enmities of this theatrical ‘marriage’ quickly rise to the surface. In a production full of laughs I especially enjoyed the scene in which Willie and Al are finally brought together for a rehearsal and cannot agree on the set for their famed ‘Doctor’s Sketch’. Like something out of a silent movie the pair continually reposition the furniture, dragging it around the room like a couple of elderly worker bees trapped in a habit they can’t break.
Later on, when Willie is bedridden after a heart attack brought on by his fury against his old comedy partner, there is a touching and funny interaction between him and his nurse (Belinda Sharpe in great fruity form putting her difficult patient in his place with her no nonsense attitude and seen it all before humour). Willie and Al finally agree to film the CBS special and Act 2 begins with a fractious dress rehearsal of the ‘The Doctor’s Sketch’.
Douglas Wragg as Patient, Belinda Sharpe as Floor Manager, Keith Gilbert as Production Manager, Hannah Wilson as the sexy Nurse, and David Morley as Voice of the Announcer all gave perfectly judged comic turns and brought an authentic period ‘feel’.
The genius of Neil Simon’s writing is due to a seemingly effortless ability to craft his acute observations of the vagaries and pain of human existence onto an unwavering engine of deliciously quick fire, but always character led, humour and gags. Simon gets a huge number of laughs out of the confrontation of the bickering comics, but he also makes it clear old age is no joke. Willie and Al may be vaudeville characters but they movingly resemble many old couples fighting off the fear of invisibility and mortality.
Jenny Lloyd Lyons really understands and clearly loves the work of Neil Simon and has directed and cast her production with high level results. This was a very funny and moving night at the theatre. As Neil Simon might have said ‘what’s not to like’.
|Audition||Sat 23 March 2013||10:30am||foyer|