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Review: The Odd Couple at the Theatre Royal

Review by Grace Swadling

“Well, that was a lot of fun, wasn’t it?”

This was the very first thing heard after the curtain went down on opening night of ‘The Odd Couple’ and it beautifully sums up what’s in store for you if you happen to find yourself at the Theatre Royal in the upcoming weeks. Written by Neil Simon in 1965, ‘The Odd Couple’ began its life on Broadway, although audiences might be more familiar with the long-running television series, starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. This production leans heavily into this element of nostalgia for longtime fans of the show but has ensured it has something to offer for new viewers as well.

The story follows Felix and Oscar, two divorced men who decide to share an apartment…the only problem is they’re the most polar opposite of men. This famously mismatched duo are the definitive ‘odd couple’ and soon display the characteristics that drove them to divorces and have them at each other’s throats in this classic comedy. 

Director Mark Kilmurray has assembled a cast of some iconic Australian actors to bring this production to life, led by the wonderful duo of Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney. Shane Jacobson’s Oscar, a cigar smoking, compulsive slob, is the perfect antithesis to Todd Mckenney’s neurotic, hyper-allergic, pernickety Felix. Jacobson has a lovely groundedness on stage - he managed to avoid the trap of presenting a beer-swilling, aggressive-macho stereotype but instead gave Oscar an endearing presence and sincerity. McKenney portrayed Felix with a combination of slapstick and pathos which was right in his wheelhouse and his physical comedy was on point. It is a testament to Simon’s writing and the stage chemistry between Jacobson and McKenney that there was a real sense of genuine friendship, even when they were driving each other crazy. This was the crux of the production, with Mark Kilmurry noting that we get to “laugh at Neil Simon’s ability to make these eclectic characters relatable, but we also get a real sense of his love and affection for this odd couple - even with all their flaws.”

Rounding out the cast was John Batchelor, Laurence Coy, Jamie Oxenbould and Anthony Taufa as the poker game players and the dynamics between all the men worked nicely. Each actor had a specific character to play and they did this well, from Bachelor's over-anxious Roy to Oxenbould’s bumbling but good-natured Vinnie. The characters in this world are larger than life but somehow the actors were able to play into this without becoming complete caricatures. The camp, slapstick comedy works within the world that Neil Simon has created and this production leans into this, especially in the second half of the show, which was a blast from the get go. The introduction of Lucy Durack’s Cecily and Penny McNamee’s Gwendolyn was a fantastic injection of energy and allowed space for playful silliness - you could tell the actors were very much enjoying themselves!

Transitions were excellent, particularly Act 2’s extended sequence of Felix and Oscar seeing how far they could push the other. In fact, all the design elements of the production worked in tandem to evoke both nostalgia and conjure up the context of mid-60s New York, from Justine Nardella’s set of a fully-realised apartment (complete with a swinging kitchen door), Michael Waters’ sound design (fans of the show would have caught the theme song) and Billy Roache’s simple yet effective 1960s costumes. The accent work was solid, although a little part of me would have loved to have seen a version of the ‘Odd Couple’ translated to the Australian experience - although admittedly this would be difficult as Simon’s text is very pointedly a New York slice of life.

Of course, as always with revival shows, we have to ask the question of; why this show, why now? Besides the obvious stellar casting, ‘The Odd Couple’ does present some issues with out-datedness - the topic of sucide is flippantly thrown around several times and the lack of female characters says more about the context of the play then it does this specific production. Watching five middle age men in the 1960s trying to deal with their suicidal friend is played out as a choreographed slapstick bit, which did offer some social commentary on how far we have come talking about men's mental health and men’s relationships in general. 

If anything, this production manages to capture a snapshot of a time gone by and allows us to reflect on how much has changed but also simultaneously how much of the human condition has stayed the same, told through an upbeat and comedic lens…which takes me back to the comment heard at the end of the show. The Odd Couple might not deal with the most hard-hitting or even overly-relevant issues but it is a fun and enjoyable night out at the theatre and sometimes that’s enough!

Image Credit: Pia Johnson


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