The Sunshine Boys – June 2012

8/10

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

Fiddler On The Roof – October 2007

10/10

Book by Joseph Stein, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick

Directed by: Lindsay Posner

Venue: Savoy Theatre

Date: Saturday 27th October 2007

This was only ever going to be 10/10, from long before it started. I was sobbing before the opening music, as Steve reminded me of the signature image of the fiddler on the roof (trust him not to have seen the film, not know who was in it apart from Topol, but to remember the name of the fiddler!) and that set me off. Sorry about this, it’s been an emotional afternoon, and I’m still recovering.

This was absolutely wonderful. I’m so glad we took the opportunity to get up to London and check out the ticket availability (half-price ticket booth, of course). Henry Goodman as Tevye was superb. It’s a part he was born to play, and from what we know of him, he’ll have thrown himself into it body and soul. It shows. He was a huge presence on stage, not drowning out the others, but always holding it together, keeping us involved, and giving us most of the laughs. Even the smallest change of expression came across back in row P. And his singing voice was a revelation. His range was wider than I expected, sort of a bass-baritone, and it was wonderfully rich and expressive. Of course, we bought the cast recording, so I’ll have plenty of opportunities to appreciate it again.

All of the cast were good, of course, and the energy they put into this performance was amazing. I only wish they could have a space like the Olivier to show off their talents even more, as occasionally the Savoy stage looked a little cramped. I know it’s meant to be a small village, but this is make-believe, after all. The set was all tattered wooden slats and beams. The revolve came in handy to change the setting quickly, but there was still a lot of table and chair shifting to do. Fortunately, there was  always some music to keep us engrossed, so the momentum was never lost.

What else can I say? There were lots of laughs, some great dancing, the fiddler was very good (dancing-wise), the orchestra were fine, the dream sequence vivid and highly amusing, and I sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, with occasional intervals. I wasn’t the only one enjoying it, either, as we gave Tevye a standing ovation at the end, and would have carried on applauding if there hadn’t been one of those charity appeals to do. Henry Goodman managed it very well, including an impromptu comment about accidents after a loud thump came from off-stage, and we all went away happy, and singing to ourselves. Happy day.

© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me