Kate Herbert is theatre reviewer, Herald Sun, Melbourne & formerly for Melbourne Times. Kate is a director & produced playwright (20 plays). Scripts published by Currency Press. She worked as an actor, comedian, improviser & teacher of Acting, Improvisation & Playwriting. Kate is currently Convenor of Professional Writing & Editing, Swinburne University. Read her reviews here or at: www.heraldsun.com.au/entertainment/arts. NB Explorer Browser doesn't always work on blog.
Friday, 11 November 2016
The Odd Couple, MTC, Nov 10, 2016 ***
THEATRE (COMEDY) By Neil Simon, Melbourne
Theatre Company Southbank
Theatre, The Sumner, until Dec 17, 2016 Reviewer: Kate Herbert on Thurs Nov 10, 2016 Stars: *** Review also published in Herald Sun Arts online on Fri Nov 11, 2016
Francis Greenslade, Shaun Micallef, Michala Banas, Christie Whelan Brown - photo Jeff Busby
Neil Simon is a genius of comic stage and screen
writing and his biting one-liners in The Odd Couple are still as funny and whip-smart
as they were when he wrote the play in 1965.
If you don’t know the story, it’s about Oscar Madison
Greenslade), a divorced, grouchy and slovenly sports writer who invites his old
pal, Felix Ungar (Shaun Micallef), a finicky, hypochondriacal news writer, to
stay with him in Oscar’s New York apartment after Felix’s wife tosses him out
of home. Chaos ensues.
You may remember
the mismatched pair from the Walter Mathau and Jack Lemmon 1968 movie written by
Simon, or recognise similar, incompatible types from TV show, Frasier, when fussy
Frasier Crane’s scruffy dad comes to stay.
Peter Houghton’s production best captures Simon’s
rapid-fire banter in Oscar’s blokey poker games that open Acts One and Two with
Oscar’s smart-mouthed, New York pals taunting and teasing each other in a
battle of wits that echoes Simon’s writing – and that of others comic geniuses such
as Mel Brooks– for the Sid Caesar TV
Greenslade finds the comedy in the unkempt Oscar’s grouchy personality
and sloppy domestic habits, driving Oscar to the edge of distraction by the
Micallef’s eccentric charm and comic spirit make Felix
engaging and funny, and he is most successful when he allows his own physical idiosyncrasies
and comic sensibilities to colour Felix’s peculiar behaviour.
and Greenslade get plenty of laughs, particularly during the slapstick scene
chasing in and out of doors, during Felix’s manic cleaning, cooking and
ear-clearing, and his prissy criticism of Oscar’s habits.
However, Micallef misses some of the detail and
extremity of Felix’s dapperness and obsessive-compulsive behaviour (e.g. he
rolls suit pants when Felix would fold them along the crease) and he never
appears, as Oscar describes Felix, to be so uptight that he has ‘clenched
The pair also lacks the searing comic timing and
delivery that should send Simon’s play into the comedy stratosphere.
There was a scary moment when Micallef’s Felix,
driven to distraction, smashes a cup that lands on a man in the front row.
Check the insurance or change the throw, boys!
The talented supporting cast provides a parade of
quirky, hilarious characters, with some of the funniest scenes involving Michala Banas and
Christie Whelan Browne as the twittering and twitty Pigeon sisters, two English
gals who tantalise Oscar and mollycoddle Felix – to Oscar’s chagrin.
David Ross Paterson,
Grant Piro, Hayden Spencer and Drew Tingwell bring to comic life Oscar and Felix’s
poker pals as they compete for not only the gambling winnings, but also for the
most acerbic and witty lines.
realistic set design of an apricot and cream 60s apartment provides the ideal
setting for the play.
The Go-Go dancingscene change was a cute interlude but
the vacuum cleanersilhouette choreography was an odd choice for an early scene
production of Simon’s famous comedy does not hit all the necessary high points,
Greenslade and Micallef trade on their natural, comic instincts to make it an
entertaining night in the theatre.