By Neil Simon
Directed by Thea Sharrock
Venue: Savoy Theatre
Date: Saturday 23rd June 2012
This was great fun. Neil Simon is a master craftsman, and this play is one of his best, judging by this production. The casting worked really well, and it looked like they were having nearly as much fun as we were. The audience were on their feet at the end – we joined in too – so the enjoyment was universal.
The play is set in the 1970s; Adam Levy not only gave a very good performance as Ben Silverman, the nephew and agent of Willie Clark, he also modelled a selection of 1970s suits for the ambitious young businessman, and looked very good in them as well. The play was mainly set in Willie’s hotel suite; he was a long-term resident, and had been demoted from a five room suite to three, but it still looked pretty spacious to me. To the right was the kitchen ‘alcove’, screened off with a curtain. To the left were the big windows, with exits for the bedroom and bathroom, and centre back was the main door, with the usual array of security locks (this is New York after all). The furniture was shabby, and reflected the life of an old man who didn’t look after himself too well. The only other set was the studio where the duo were attempting to record their famous doctor/taxman sketch. Easily contained within the walls of the suite, there were glittery curtains all round, and a doctor’s consulting room in the middle, with a door on the left, table and chairs in the middle, a flipchart to the right, a skeleton to the left, and not much else.
The story concerns two old comedians who used to have a top comedy act, Clark (Danny DeVito) and Lewis (Richard Griffiths). After Lewis’s abrupt retirement eleven or twelve years ago, the pair haven’t spoken to each other, but now a TV company wants to record their famous sketch as part of a documentary charting the history of comedy performance. As Willie’s agent, Ben was keen to get them back together again, and despite Willie’s complaints and hostility, he does finally agree to a rehearsal. The relationship between the two men then became the central theme of the play, and along with the laughs I could see glimpses of the heartache as well. It was clear that Willie had been grieving for the loss of his career all those years ago, when he didn’t feel like retiring, while Al Lewis had simply had enough.
The humour was rich and varied; most of it was in the dialogue, which these two stars delivered with impeccable timing. There was also a lot of visual stuff too, like the TV on a trolley which was moved too far so the plug came out of the socket. When Willie phoned the concierge to complain, he realised what he’d done but didn’t admit it, claiming he would fix it himself. Then there was the bit during the rehearsal scene where they were putting the furniture into place to represent the set. They kept changing each other’s work, until finally Willie leaves Al to do it himself. The resolution to this argument was very funny, involving the slight movement of a chair.
I also enjoyed the performance of Johnnie Fiori as the nurse in the final scene, when Willie was recuperating from his heart attack. She was feisty and funny, and although I couldn’t hear all of her lines, I got the gist. The whole production worked really well, and I’m glad we managed to squeeze this one in.
© 2012 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me