Thurs 19th - Sat 21st November & Tues 24th - Sat 28th November 1998
Directed by Simon Walton
The setting: a weekly poker game in the smoke filled disorganised apartment of a divorced and carefree Oscar. Into the midst of this arrives a newly separated and depressed Felix. After a series of anxious "suicidal" moments Felix agrees, at Oscar's insistence, to move in. What follows is the inevitable course towards destruction that the friendship takes because of Felix's anxieties, obsessions and ultimately, reluctance to find new romance.
The Odd Couple was written in 1965 and premiered that year on Broadway where it won the Tony Award for best play. It was followed by a successful film and television series, as well as other derivative works and spin offs, many featuring one or more of the same actors. The plot concerns two mismatched roommates, one fastidious and particular, the other more easy-going and slovenly. Felix Ungar, a neurotic, obsessive news writer, is thrown out by his wife, and moves in with his friend Oscar Madison, a messy sportswriter. In its original Broadway run, Ungar was played by Art Carney and Madison by Walter Matthau. Matthau was later replaced with Jack Klugman. In the original play while the two main characters were male, Simon also later wrote a version for a pair of female roommates, called 'The Female Odd Couple'.
Sources vary as to the origins of the play. Most claim that Simon was inspired to write the play when he saw his brother Danny Simon and theatrical agent Roy Gerber living together after recent divorces. However, in the Mel Brooks biography 'It's Good to Be the King', author James Robert Parish affirms that the play came about after Simon observed Brooks, in a separation from his first wife, living with writer Speed Vogel for three months. The show, directed by Mike Nichols, ran for 966 performances and won several Tony Awards, including Best Play.
This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.
|Oscar Madison||Alan Welton|
|Felix Ungar||Mark Wakeman|
|Gwendoline Pigeon||Louise Arnold|
|Cecily Pigeon||Alice Corrigan|
|Stage Manager||Start Monk|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Rebecca Ward|
|Lighting Design||Stuart Cole|
|Sound devised by||Trevor Meek|
|Handbill Design||Pete Woodward|
|Programme Editor||Sue Walton|
|Front of House||Jacquie Penrose|
The setting is New York, the language and accents American, But the relationships could be anywhere - and this lively Bench Theatre production has their measure. The odd couple of Neil Simon's title are Oscar and Felix. Oscar is divorced and a slob and as happy as the proverbial pig. But he and we realise how happy he was only after Felix, newly-separated, has moved in, cleaned up and made him miserable.
That's the first triumph for director Simon Walton - that moment when Oscar's Friday-night poker school reassembles at the beginning of act two and the set, expressions and body language all tell the story. But the play is about loneliness and dependency, fear and longing, as well as incompatibility. If the pain at the end could perhaps be more pointed here, that's to take nothing away from two impressive central performances.
Alan Welton has the gift of seeming relaxed in his acting even when showing Oscar to be all screwed up. Only at the beginning does he need to signal the jokes more boldly. Mark Wakeman catches exactly the 'human sacrifice look' on Oscar's face, and most importantly he does not take the housewifely habits to the point of campness. That would be cheap and wrong. Arguably, the director does take the easy option in making the two English girls from the apartment upstairs such giggly caricatures but they are nicely played by Alice Corrigan and Louise Arnold. And while the other men are deftly sketched in, Peter Corrigan is outstanding as a noisy Jewish Cop.
When the fastidious Oscar arrives with a drink and asks where his coaster is, the poker-player's response is bluffly delivered: "My What? Oh my God, I think I bet it!" The production runs until Saturday.
The News, 18th November 1998