‘Last of the Red-Hot Lovers’ is a hilarious comedy in three Acts by American playwright Neil Simon. It premiered on Broadway in 1969 but is still as fresh and relevant today. It is considered one of Simon’s best comedies. Marvin Neil Simon wrote more than 30 plays and adapted most for cinema. He has received more combined Oscar and Tony Award nominations than any other writer. He died in August 2018 aged 91.
This two-and-a-half-hour production is being presented at the Old Mill Theatre each Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 7.30 pm until Saturday 27th March. There are Sunday matinées at 2.00 pm until 21st March.
The Scene: Barney’s mother’s apartment in East Side New York. 1969.
The Set: designed and constructed by first-class designer George Boyd.
The bedsit was bright and upmarket for 1969. The décor was pale yellow – cream walls, with limestone-coloured gloss on doors. The front door, on audience left, led onto a balcony with a coats area and a large, curtained window. The teak rails around the balcony led down two-steps to the main sitting room area. Against the rear wall was a fully equipped kitchen, complete with sink, units and oven. To the side is an oak dining table and chairs.
The two smaller windows overlooking the garden had white venetian blinds. The door to the right led to the kitchen and toilet. On the wall was a round gilt mirror above a telephone table. Centre stage was a cream settee with a pattern of pastel colours.
The set décor and set dressing was by Dale James, with Chelsea Willis sourcing extra props.
Lighting and sound design by John Woolrych was above average.
Lighting and sound flawlessly operated by first-timer Ella Lindsay. The light from the windows changing tone and brightness in the room as the blinds were drawn. This move is often clunky.
Stage management by newcomer Chelsea Willis was smooth and efficient.
Programme design and photography by Rosalyn Anderson was particularly good.
It is a late afternoon in December. The flat door opens, a middle-aged man in a trilby and fine overcoat enters. He is the owner of a successful seafood restaurant, Barney Cashman (Murray Cashman). Father of three, Barney is happily married to an ineffectual woman, and having been quite pitiful with women in the past. He has a NICE life.
In a midlife crisis, Barney is afraid that the Wild Sixties sexual revolution is fleeting rapidly by? Wanting his share of adultery, he is using his mother’s flat on her day out.
The doorbell rings. In strides a bored, repetitive adulterer, Elaine Navazio (Nyree Hughes); this neurotic, whisky-swigging, smoker is one of Barney’s best customers. A true challenge for Barney.
Some months later, on an afternoon in August, the doorbell rings again and an attractive 20 yrs. old flighty blonde, Bobbi Michele (Ellin Sears) a singer whose voice and laugh cover three octaves – walks in. She is totally mad and so talkative! Can Barney cope?
A month later, the bell announces his next fantasy; a resolute, gloomy moralist, Jeannette Fisher (Melissa Merchant). She is a depressed housewife who worryingly is married to Barney’s best friend.
Can Barney find a brief bit of joy?
Most of the cast have been best friends for years and have all tackled every genre of theatre as actors and directors with notable success. I think this closeness adds to the play’s smooth atmosphere and chemistry.
Director Dale James has kept a perfect comedic pace and ensured that every quip is correctly delivered. Murray is a treasure that seems to emerge every now and again, play a major part magnificently, and then retreat for another year or two. He has a rubber, cheeky face that can give a multitude of expressions, all different.
Nyree has played numerous straight and dramatic parts, and yet was so good as the ‘let us have a quickie’ girl. Her frustrations and attitude at Barney’s incompetence were hilarious.
Ellin, who is normally a singer, dancing instructor or director flew around the set like a light ball of pink fairy floss. Her actions and effervescence brought a permanent smile to the audience’s faces. Tremendous.
Melissa is Murray’s real-life partner, and her cold disgusted attitude was superb. Her miserable acrid dialogue brought a laugh a minute.
Thanks to Dale the director this show just rocked from the opening curtain. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.