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Review of The Sunshine Boys at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

As has often been the case I arrived totally cold as to what I was going to see and experience from The Playhouse's production of The Sunshine Boys. The writer Neil Simon was unknown to me (research today has told me that he wrote classics The Odd Couple and Barefoot In The Park, and it is true, shockingly, that I have seen neither), therefore what I was going to get either way was a surprise. All I really knew was that is was a comedy. How sharp, witty and caustically funny is was to be was a remarkable surprise.

It was also great news to discover that one of my favourites of the Playhouse regulars, Graham Follett, was the main star. In all the shows I have seen, I have admired his generally soft and gentle approach to the roles. It was however a huge pleasure to see him playing against that type I have previously seen in the role of Willie Clark, a opinionated, miserable and often downright rude ex-vaudeville star, one half of a long dissolved double act. He is immediately perfect in the role, dishevelled in appearance as he shuffles around his shrunken home, and with a face perfect for selling medicine for stomach aches. It's the best I have personally seen him in a role and one that he embodies perfectly.

Also quite brilliant as his early sparring partner is Richard Smith as his nephew and agent Ben Silverman. He is gently persuasive in his well meaning way of bringing the duo back together, and is the catalyst for the plays progression. He also brings over well his obvious love for his uncle, clearly worried for not only his health but his very obvious loneliness. It is a well played, but importantly underplayed performance.

Jem Clack as Clark's old partner Al Lewis plays the downtrodden straight man's role perfectly, despite also having his regular own moments with his spittle and pointy finger. He is the star of the duo as Willie willingly admits, but Clack's performance feels perfectly pitched to allow Follett to remain the lead character. Their performance of the sketch itself is perfectly timed, and wonderfully boils over when Clark's character delivers his typing on the typewriter line. The ending of this scene (no spoilers) is judged perfectly and has an impact following all the humour that has gone before.

Away from the leads, I absolutely loved Jill-Rhianna Green's perfectly sounding period announcements. It was also great to see, albeit briefly, Fiona Abbis in the admittedly thankless role of the sketch nurse Miss Mackintosh. This perhaps is the only sticking point for a modern audience, in that it is a tremendously sexist play. Even the other main female role of the real nurse, Miss O'Neill (Corinna Leeder), is put down at every opportunity. It is indeed a play very much of its time and it needs to be regarded at such.

Andrew Nettleship's direction keeps everything moving on that lovely little stage and scene charges are kept wonderfully brief. The set is perfectly in keeping with the glum apartment of Clark and happily becomes the CBS stage in the second act. There are also plenty of props for Lewis and Clark to move back and forwards during that hugely comic scene towards the end of the first half.

A wonderfully witty play very much of its time and performed superbly well, especially by the three leads who spark off one another wonderfully well. Definitely up there with the best I have seen at the Playhouse and comes very highly recommended.

Performance reviewed: Wednesday 27th January, 2016

The Sunshine Boys continues at the Playhouse Theatre, Northampton until Saturday 30th January, 2016. For full details visit their website at http://www.theplayhousetheatre.net/
Photo copyright The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

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