Thurs 20th - Sat 22nd November & Tues 25th - Sat 29th November 2003
Directed by Simon Walton
The famous vaudeville team of Al Lewis and Willie Clark, otherwise known as 'The Sunshine Boys', despite working together for 43 years, could not stand each other. More importantly they haven't talked since Lewis walked out on the team's final show 11 years ago leaving Clark, a die-hard New Yorker showman, to soldier on regardless.
The attempt by Ben, Willie's nephew, to get the obstinate duo back together one last time for a CBS History of Comedy special makes for "one of the great comedies by one of the great American comic writers".
'The Sunshine Boys' was originally produced on Broadway in 1972 and later adapted for film and television. As a play it was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award.
The story focuses on characters Al Lewis and Willy Clark, a one-time vaudevillian team known as "Lewis and Clark" who, over the course of forty-odd years, not only grew to hate each other but never spoke to each other off-stage throughout the final year of their act. The stubborn Clark, who was not ready for retirement, resented the wiser Lewis for breaking up the act when he opted to leave show business. It is now 1972 and CBS is inviting the team to reunite for a special on the history of comedy, with the pair representing the vaudeville era at its best. Clark is convinced by his nephew Ben to revive one of the old routines one last time. Much of the humour is derived from efforts to get the two cantankerous actors into the same room for a rehearsal, their differences of opinion once they reunite, and their shenanigans on the actual broadcast.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Willie Clark||Andy Rees|
|Ben Silverman||Mark Wakeman|
|Al Lewis||Pete Woodward|
|TV Producer||Sue Dawes|
|TV Assistant||Vicky Hayter|
|TV Nurse||Sophie Stoppani|
|Voice Over||Alan Welton |
|Stage Manager||John Wilcox|
|Lighting Design||Damon Wakelin|
|Sound Design||Daryl Wakelin|
|Lighting Operation||Alice Corrigan|
|Sound Operation||Angela Evans|
|Set Design||Simon Walton|
The basic premise is simple and in my mind works very well given our often sentimental approach to items of nostalgia. We often remember with fondness the great shows of yesteryear only to find on second viewing that either the people of the material wasn't how we remembered. Additionally as perhaps older counterparts of Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple while the anger and jokes are all there, there is also a touch of sadness underneath the surface.
This curiously unsatisfactory play receives a most satisfactory airing from Havant's always-worthy Bench Theatre. Please note - the play is unsatisfactory, the performance is not. Unsatisfactory? The plot (a much-loved vaudeville double-act reunites years later to revive the act for a television nostalgia fest despite their mutual loathing) has no sparkle or surprise - but it does afford opportunity for stinging one-liners.
And those one-liners are delivered with great panache by both Andy Rees - with his excellent timing - and the superb Pete Woodward. Their onstage relationship crackles with hysterical bitterness and Woodward in particular, gives a balanced performance well-rooted in reality. Mark Wakeman, as always, acts with vigour and his eye for detail is well-used here. A nice performance from Ruth Prior as Rees's long-suffering nurse, too.
Some long-winded (though unavoidable) scene changes interrupt the action and some members of the cast should be never again to be cast in American-accented roles again, but if you're looking for a good laugh with a suspicion of good old American sentimentality thrown in, you should give this easy-going production a visit. The Bench continue to show what good local theatre is all about. Until next Saturday.
The News, 21st November 2003