‘The Sunshine Boys’ reviewed by Gordon the Optom

by July 27, 2017

‘The Sunshine Boys’ is a delightfully funny Neil Simon, 1972 classic comedy, having thrice been made into a film (1975, when George Burns won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, 1977 – terrible – and 1996 with Woody Allen). Bronx-born Simon, who has just turned 90, has been married 5 times, twice to the same woman. In this play, he mentions one of his grandchildren is called ‘Marvin’, this is Simon’s first name, – ‘Neil’ is his middle name. The play contains a medical sketch, and by coincidence, Simon’s nickname is ‘Doc’. The Harbour Theatre is producing this fun evening at the Camelot Theatre within the Mosman Park Memorial Hall, 16 Lochee Street, Mosman Park. The two-hour play is on every evening at 7.30 until Saturday 29th July. There are two Sunday matinées, each at 2.00 pm on the 23rd and 30th July.

 

The scene is 1995 in a long-term stay, hotel room in New York.

The walls of the room are a light mushroom colour. To the audience’s right is a sleeping area with a brass bed. Centre stage is a dining table and chairs, to the side a comfortable armchair and a large 1960s TV – a set that size would have cost a fortune when bought. Quite a few unusual props sourced by Grace Hitchin, who was also responsible for supervising the wardrobe, hair styling and delightful costumes.

The Stage Manager was Marina Cappola who as assisted by David Armstrong.

The well-balanced lighting was rigged and operated by Rob Tagliaferri. Rob also has the live ‘voice over’ part of the TV director.

A great selection of mood music by sound operator, Vanessa Gudgeon.

 

       After reluctantly retiring from the stage 11 years earlier, the tetchy and obstinate Willie Clark (Tom Rees) is still very bitter about the treatment he received from Al (Rex Gray), his vaudeville comedy partner of 43 years. Together they were a top theatre act, ‘The Sunshine Boys’. Willie now relies upon his nephew, Ben (Justin Friend) to act as his agent, picking up any scraps of TV advertising he can find. Willie hates being a has-been, but doggedly refuses to accept a generous TV offer to get together with Al, and to perform their trademark act.

     The TV programme’s director (Rob Tagliaferri) and floor manager (David Armstrong) try hard to get the couple to perform. Willie’s glamourous, wiggling secretary (Maree Stedul) reminds him how much fun his sketch was, whilst Nurse O’Neil (Victoria Dixon) finds that she has the patient from Hell to look after.

 

Dale James, who not only has a Best Director award, but is also a well-known ‘household voice’, thanks to her lively sessions on Capital community radio. Dale slickly directs the play. You can see the thought that Dale has put into the direction of this play, with little actions like the common, post-war circular motion of the men’s cups,ensuring that every drop of quality would be extracted from the tealeaves as they drank their beverage.

Dale’s choice of Award winning actor Tom Rees as Willie was a masterstroke, he was magnificent in what was almost a 120-minute monologue, with Tom on stage the whole time. Justin stepped into the part of Ben at the very last minute, when another actor suffered back trouble; Justin was magnificent, and although he carried a script in his hand, his occasional, imperceptible glances, and fine quality interaction with Tom and Rex, made his performance superlative. Rex as Al gave a clever understated performance. Their famous sketch was ‘aged’ and dull compared to real life action. The supporting cast were perfect. Maree as the cheeky, raunchy actress, David as the weary frustrated floor manager, and Victoria as the weary, bossy nurse.

The play called for a Bronx accent, and the whole cast had an accurate, matching inflection subtly spoken, but Justin’s intonation was exceptional. Even when Ben was angry he never lost this very natural twang.

This play was all about the belligerence between the famous old actors, with the many of the laughs coming from us recognising our own aged relatives in the play’s situation. I found myself sitting with a big grin and shaking my head at the dialogue, rather than straight jokes or situation humour.

A clever script, very well presented.