The Sunshine Boys by Neil Simon – Savoy Theatre London – Review

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Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito – brilliant comic casting

We’ve not had much sunshine in the UK this year, the odd glimpse here and there but ever since the water companies announced a water shortage in April we’ve had non-stop rain. The West End however has a radiant beam of sunshine  shining forth at the moment in Neil Simon’s charming comedy The Sunshine Boys.

Theatre is many things to many people. After a manic week at work for both my wife and I we settled into our chairs at The Savoy Theatre hoping for a pleasant, fun and entertaining evening. The Sunshine Boys was the perfect antidote to a hectic work week. I’d firstly like to say how impressed I was by the front of house staff at The Savoy Theatre, certainly the most helpful and polite of any West End Theatre I’ve been too.

The play is about two vaudeville performers that have fallen out 11 years earlier and are asked to reunite for a TV special. The physical comedy and gags provide many a laugh and the play has a touching melancholy about fame, entertainment and old age.

A comedy performance of perfection from Danny DeVito

Thea Sharrock’s directing allows the humour to shine through and for the masterful acting of Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths to glisten. I attended a masterclass with her earlier this month, and there she talked of the need for actors to trust the author, clearly DeVito and Griffiths trust Neil Simon, watching them was truly mesmerizing. They communicate so much just with a look or a reaction. Although the play is titled about the two “boys” it really is all about Danny DeVito’s character Willie Clark. He’s on stage for the entire play and it really is his play. Watching him was an object lesson in comic acting, but more than that it was simply a joy to watch him perform.

Neil Simon’s script from 1972 is of a slightly slower pace than some modern plays and comedies but I thought it never dragged, some of the jokes might be a bit hackneyed but I think that’s in keeping with the characters. The audience and I laughed along throughout and the recreation of The Sunshine Boys classic doctors sketch that opens Act 2 was harmless fun with some very funny moments and took me back to a time of Morecambe and Wise and the Two Ronnies.

At the end the entire audience (including me) gave Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths a standing ovation. I hardly ever give a standing ovation (in fact I’m not sure the last time I did give one, they happen so rarely!) so I hope that gives you some idea of how impressed I was by their performances. It really is worth going to see this, just to see Danny DeVito’s adroit performance.

A jubilant evening at the theatre, perfect Friday night entertainment and merriment.

STARS : * * * *

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Masterclass with Thea Sharrock

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Thea with Olivier

With her Olivier award for Best Revival – After the Dance

I had the priviledge to spend time in the company of Thea Sharrock the other week as she gave a masterclass in directing Terence Rattigan.

The event organised by The Terence Rattigan Society and hosted by The Central School of Speech and Drama(or as a friend who’s an ex student talking to me refered to it “School of Screech and Trauma”)

Thea’s a gifted director who has directed numerous successes, most notably in this context Rattigan’s After The Dance at the National Theatre and Cause Celebre at the Old Vic.

We saw a few Central students act out scenes from The Deep Blue Sea and The Browning Version. Thea then directed them and worked on the scenes with them. I hope to direct(After the Dance as it happens) in the near future and watching her interacting and observing the actors was truly a masterclass in how to direct.

It was great to see a director so passionate about Rattigan’s work, and to see young students being inspired by his meticulous and vibrant writing.

I came away with many scribbled jottings in my notebook, which will be put into use I’m sure. A key point she made was that Rattigan’s plays need to be performed at pace. If they are presented in a slow style they become turgid period pieces, rather than the dynamic drama they are.

A pleasure to spend a couple of hours “drinking in” the advice and wisdom on offer.

Blithe Spirit – Apollo Theatre, London – Review

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Robert Bathurst, Ruthie Henshall, Alison Steadman and Hermione Norris

Spooky goings on are occurring at The Apollo Theatre, London at the moment, courtesy of a revival of Noel Coward’s classic play Blithe Spirit. Despite this being a Coward classic, this was my first time seeing it.

It’s a play very much of its time, but that adds to its charm and fun. Ruthie Henshall is deliciously impish as the ghost Elvira and revels in the havoc she’s causing, especially when she sprays Hermione Norris with the soda dispenser you can sense the glee, but spraying your co-star each night must be fun!

Hermione Norris is a stylish and perplexed Ruth who captures brilliantly the confusion of her character. Robert Bathurst is perfect casting for the haunted Charles and his torment is played perfectly, as well as his joy in seeing his first wife Elvira again.

Alison Steadman has the chance to steal the show with her character Madame Arcati, which she wisely chooses not to do, rather she plays the character for the laughs that it is superbly written to get and actually brings tenderness to the character, as she’s as equally perplexed at the goings on as the others. Rather than veering off into the melodramatic she reins in this character, which I think is much better. That’s not to say she doesn’t know when to go a bit over the top with the role, but she gives the character a depth I imagine few actresses have.

Jodie Taibi as Edith the Maid, is hilarious, from her opening splits to her final denouement, she proves that even though Coward wrote small parts for some, they’re actually very important. Bo Poraj plays the stiff upper lipped and skeptical Dr Bradman charmingly and Charlotte Thornton as Mrs Bradman is likewise first-class. (my wife also loved this characters trouser suit, which was stunning!)

The plays finale is spooky and stupendous. The whole production is first-rate. This is a very enjoyable play, regarded by those wiser than I as one of Coward’s best. This is a finely assembled cast of top pros and so I don’t think I’m going to see it presented better than this. As mentioned earlier, it would be easy for several of the characters to be over the top and “steal the show”, rather this cast work as a whole to give the piece much needed balance, I think the play is stronger for their restraint. Thea Sharrock is to be commended for directing the play in this way. If you fancy seeing a fun play that’s a “modern” classic, presented by a fine cast of actors, I think you’ll enjoy this.