The Odd Couple

‘The Odd Couple’ was written by New York playwright, screenwriter and author Marvin Neil Simon, who died last August aged 91 of kidney failure and Alzheimer’s disease.

After watching this laugh a minute comedy it easy to understand how he received more Oscar and Tony Award nominations than any other writer. In 1983, he became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honour.

This hilarious production can be seen at The Old Mill Theatre on the corner of Mends Street and Mill Point Road, South Perth, and it runs from the 11th to the 20th of June at 7.30 each evening, with Saturday and Sunday matinées on the 13,19,20 at 2.00 pm. Be warned this show was an instant sell-out but you may get a cancellation.

The Scene:   An upmarket twelfth floor, 8-bedroom flat in New York City in the 1960s.

The Set:   Masterfully designed by George Boyd. The front door (in the rear corner) opened onto a raised area that led down to a sunken sitting room, with doors leading off to the kitchen, toilet and bedrooms. The walls are apple green, the gloss paint work is cream. The working sash windows at the rear of the room have venetian blinds fitted; a radio system is on a bookcase below them. Stage right is a drinks table and an oak table with matching chairs for the poker players. A stainless-steel settee has plush cream upholstery. There is another drinks table and occasional chair on the right wall.

Props:   Andrea Newton has collected some wonderful props that made the room look lived in and true to Oscar’s grubby life. The first scene had sandwiches, drink and lots of diseased food wrappers. An authentic vacuum cleaner of the period was used by the cast. A brilliant set with charming furnishings.                             

Lighting and sound design and operation:   John Woolrych, as always, in great form.

Stage manager Andrea Newton with her assistant stage manager, Jaclyn Clarke worked miracles. The stage crew for first scene change required extra help from the cast to clear Oscar’s clutter and detritus.

The well-designed programme and the photographs were by Rosalyn Anderson.

A group of long-time friends are gathered in the smoke-filled, grubby apartment of recently divorced sportswriter, slovenly Oscar Madison (Benjamin Small – energy packed, side-splitting). The flat is type of place you wipe your feet on the out. The group are there for their weekly poker game and so being the host, Oscar offers his guests is warm Coke and mouldy sandwiches. Oscar’s accountant, dry witted Roy (Harry Docherty) and mild-mannered Murray (Darren Goodison), who is a NYPD police officer, express concern that their uptight but fastidious friend Felix Ungar (Robrecht Herfkens – brilliant) has not arrived as expected.

Eventually, Felix appears, but being a hypochondriac, he is extremely depressed – verging on suicide – as he has just been thrown out by his wife. Rather than join his poker friends, Felix starts to tidy-up. At the next week’s session, Felix is so neurotic about cleaning that one by one, the gamblers leave. Even outspoken and gruff Speed (Pete Walmsley) is frustrated and the mild mannered, henpecked Vinnie (Martin Bowen) leaves, threatening never to return.

Then, one evening in the lift, Oscar meets two flirtatious and passionate English Cockney neighbours; a beautiful widow, Gwendolyn (Pip Cross) and her giggly sister, Cecily Pigeon (Natalie Kirwan). Could an evening with these girls be what Felix desperately needs?

I have seen this piece played a couple of times by a male cast, once with a female cast and as the rip-roaring 1968 film. Now director Trevor Dhu’s interpretation has given a marvellous new life to this 50 years old play. Trevor has managed to recruit two magnificent leads, Benjamin Small and Rob Herfkens, whose deep understanding of the magnificent dialogue is just jaw dropping.

In producing a comedy, managing to acquire one very funny, natural performer can be relief, but Trevor has secured two stars joined at the hip AND a cast where every single member works with perfect comedic chemistry. Whether it is henpecked Vinnie or the two sisters, every emotion displayed was believable. A faultless cast in a comedy – could this be a first for Perth? Most of these actors only come out of hibernation every year or two, but when they do it is like a breath of fresh air.

The pace was bouncing along, the actors fed off the non-stop laughs of the audience.

The script was of a similar narrative throughout and normally most actors would have missed passages or mixed blocks of dialogue and floundered, but this troupe they were flawless.

This was an exceptionally well produced version and given the chance could have run with full houses for a month.