Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Wine and sweet words

Neil Simon's "Barefoot in the Park" is a very good play, made an excellent film with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford (1967) and is now revived yet again, more than forty years on, in a sparkling new production directed by Maureen Lipman (this week at Richmond Theatre).Barefoot-Group-w It is 1963 and Paul (Dominic Tighe) and Corrie (the delectable Faye Castelow) are twenty-something newly marrieds fresh from a six day and seemingly very successful honeymoon in New York's Plaza hotel. She is all bubbly young bride - he a little more dull with his emerging career as a trial lawyer top of the mind. Corrie has taken the lead in setting up home and has found a small apartment on 48th Street which is potentially a cosy love nest - albeit that as it is on the sixth floor (including the "stoop") it is rather an aerobic climb up the many flights of stairs. The first visitor is the telephone engineer - who collapses into the room post climb - a nice cameo performance from David Partridge. Then Corrie's mother Ethyl (Ms Lipman) arrives - a widow of mature years whose acerbic wit combined with her gentle Jewish Momma character really dominates the rest of the evening. The apartment block is evidently full of oddballs (rather in the manner of the also early 1960s "Breakfast at Tiffany's") including the Hungarian neighbour Victor Velasco (Oliver Cotton) who insinuates himself amusingly into the family.

Neil Simon is a master of the one-liner and all of the cast, but especially Maureen Lipman, deliver them with aplomb: "Make him feel important. If you do that, you'll have a happy and wonderful marriage - like two out of every ten couples. " The plot is slight - a lover's tiff dominates the final Act after a chaotic and drunken dinner in an Albanian restaurant on Staten Island, arranged by Victor, has caused some friction within the strange ménage a quatre. After six days the marriage is in trouble - but not really - although the slight incompatibility between the ebullient and sexy Corrie and the over-serious Paul seems real enough. But you know that it will work out alright in the end with the immature semi protagonists realising that, even for the very young adult, passion alone cannot be enough.

Neil Simon has been a major influence on comic writing for half a century - as British playwrights and screen and TV writers from Alan Ayckbourn to Richard Curtis would no doubt acknowledge. The lightness of touch and very funny wisecracks could suggest that "Barefoot in the Park" is just a fluffy RomCom. But the characters make it rather more than that and Simon is a master dramatist who creates parts that any actor would beg for. Even the very small and non-speaking part of the Delivery Man offers potential which is well realised in this production by Hayward Morse. This is a strong cast who under Ms Lipman's tight direction delivers an evening full of fun and which although it stays firmly in period has not dated at all in 50 years. “Young Love”, according to Plautus, was all about having occasions to celebrate  with “wine and sweet words” and there are plenty of both in “Barefoot in the Park” – but the odd reality check as well!