Peter McGarry is an experienced,
independent professional theatre critic who has agreed to
review Talisman Theatre productions.
Peter is free to express his opinions for good or ill. The
Talisman Theatre has no control whatsoever over the content
of these reviews and will not comment publicly on what he writes.
New York Jewish humour edged with nostalgia
underpins the plays of Neil Simon. And the remarkable rate
at which his highly individual work was regularly snapped
up by Hollywood ensured only the biggest star names being
Here the task facing the Talisman was to follow the footsteps
of screen giants Walter Matthau and George Burns.
In such circumstances, John Fenner and Neil Vallance deliver
a commendable joint effort. But they have numerous obstacles
to overcome. This is not the best of Simon. The first act
is one long joke mercilessly drawn out and only the lugubrious
brilliance of Matthau and the irrepressible, ageless comedy
turn of Burns could really make it shine.
Their challenge, then, is to breathe a fair measure of good-natured
and crotchety life into the characters of the two old Vaudeville
veterans who have hated each other through four decades of
comedy partnership. Under David Draper's empathetic direction,
they achieve a strong sense of the relationship in act one
and have more opportunity to develop it through the livelier
Contrasts are nicely drawn, with Fenner's grouchy and aggressive
Willie refusing to give ground to Vallance's more steadfast
Al. The latter applies a soft-growl tone a la George Burns
and savours his monosyllabic first entrance scene.
Aiding and abetting the duo, with the aim of reuniting them
for a TV special, is Willie's nephew, a part that enables
Dave Crossfield to inject a sense of modern world into the
melee with a spirited portrayal of a young man whose best
intentions begin to flounder into despair.
By the end, the piece has gained more substance. It hasn't
the bite of Simon's earlier work, such as The Odd Couple with
its occasional similarities, but remains mildly engaging.
And this is a mildly engaging production.