Barefoot in the Park by Neil Simon. The Mill at Sonning to 20 August 2022. 4****. William Russell.

Dinner theatre needs to present just the right sort of play and this briskly staged revival of Neil Simon’s 1963 comedy directed by Robin Herford is the perfect choice. It has dated, but the jokes stand up and the tempestuous early days of marriage between free spirit Corrie (Hannah Pauley) and stuffed shirt but very dishy lawyer Paul (Jonny Labey) still holds the interest which, since Simon was a master of the well oiled comedy, should come as no surprise. Robert Redford played Jonny on Broadway and went on to play the role in the 1967 film version opposite Jane Fonda, confirming his position as a star in Hollywood. It is back where it began and a massive commercial success with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick playing the young couple although rather too close to the bus pas generation for comfort – the reviews were cool but their star power is pulling in the audience and you cannot argue with that. As for this production, Pauley and Labey are just the right age for the roles so no suspension of belief is called for.
The couple are found moving in to the apartment from hell up umpteen flights of stairs – her dream is to dance barefoot in the park, his is to have a nice little wife to come home to after a hard day in court. There is a comic Hungarian neighbour in the attic upstairs, a lecherous free spirit given lots of comic zest by James Simmons, her widowed mother from New Jersey – a choice role for any actress neatly filled by Rachel Fielding – who proves far more sensible than her daughter and the man from the telephone company played by Oliver Stanley. His weary resignation as he keeps getting called out, this being the pre mobile phone world, to repair the phone which the warring duo have broken yet again is delightful to behold.
This is not Simon’s best Broadway play – prolific and a master of the choice one liner that accolade probably goes to The Odd Couple – but it remains a good night out by any standards and gets the performances from the cast needed to ensure the audience leaves having laughed a lot and feeling it has been an evening well spent. It is not all froth – married in haste and repenting at leisure things do get rather bitter as the couple fight, but in the end all turns out well with a little advice offered from mum to daughter about married life tossed in. Add the excellent dinner included in the ticket and this is about as good as it gets.

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