By Carly Fisher
Rounding out the year with Neil Simon’s classic comedy The Odd Couple, the Ensemble Theatre seemingly proved once again it is perfectly in tune with its core demographic and is ready to bring them a good laugh just before the holiday season. For these reasons, the light script that, despite revealing most of its plot twists upfront has you invested in the characters all the same, is a wise choice to conclude a mixed 2019 and to remind their key audiences that this is to the go to place for theatre of this style.
I may be a generation below this prime audience member, however, that didn’t detract from the enjoyability of the piece. The Odd Couple is everything that you expect a classic Neil Simon comedy will be, and if you’re familiar with the widely popular 1970s sitcom starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman by the same title, then you know the story. And yet, I urge you to see this latest production because the cast warrants a look in - they’re a well-cast, strong ensemble with excellent comedic timing and offer their characters a childish flair that makes them endearing even if the script is perhaps, at this point, a little dated.
Two divorcees - chalk and cheese in nature - end up becoming housemates when Oscar (Steve Rogers), the ‘expert divorcee’ of the two, takes Felix (Brian Meegan) in the night he has broken up with his wife in fear for his friend’s safety. It starts off promisingly. Oscar, who lives like a complete slob, is now being cared and catered for by Felix, who seems to need cleanliness and order to an umptineeth degree to feel comfortable. However, in a classic ‘men will be men’ tale, there is only so much each can take of this.
Joining the men around Oscar’s weekly poker table and therefore rounding out the male ensemble are their group of friends - Speed (Laurence Coy), Roy (Robert Jago), Murray (James Lugton) and, in my opinion, stealing the scene, Vinnie (Nicholas Papademetriou). They’re boisterous and keen to pick on one another but they represent the true essence of male mateship as well.
This play had some flaws for me - particularly in the way in which Simon wrote the female characters which, although so wonderfully acted by Olivia Pigeot and Katie Fitchett, showed women to be nothing more than giggling props in the male game. Perhaps this representation of women was perfectly adequate at his time of writing, but in 2019, it felt simply dated. I felt too that there was little advancement in plot to warrant the run time - it could have been condensed into a shorter production and been much funnier accordingly. That said, I appreciate too that that is simply not Neil Simon’s style - another 2019 update request perhaps.
All of that aside, it was nice to see a show that spoke openly about mental health in males and about the need for mateship to help your friends through. Could this have been done more successfully or with greater depth, unquestionably. However, it is important that we remind audiences of the importance of friendship, of being there when your friends are going through a tough time and of getting your friends to talk - not to just drink through it, but to talk - especially in a group of males. It was refreshing to see comedic theatre start nudging at these comments.
A huge achievement of this production was the set by Hugh O’Connor which, from the moment you walked into the Kirribilli theatre was striking. The small space is so reliant on the success of the set and the impression it makes on an audience when you walk through that door and this one was immediately playful, detailed and dressed extremely well and generous in its offerings of spaces and tactile set pieces for the actors to interact with to make the place feel more alive and more lived in. It was an example of very clever designing.
There is no rough and tough in this boys will be boys play - you have to head over to Belvoir for that at the moment. This is simply a light night of theatre that celebrates friendship, encourages you to have a bit of a laugh and to appreciate a very high quality group of ensemble performers.
Image Credit: Prudence Upton
All opinions and thoughts expressed within reviews on Theatre Travels are those of the writer and not of the company at large.