BAREFOOT IN THE PARK
by Neil Simon.
Oxford Playhouse 11-12 Beaumont Street OX1 2LW To 28 April 2012.
Fri 8pm Sat 7.30pm Mat Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 15min One interval.
TICKETS: 01865 305305.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 April.
Fine-crafted comedy with a performance worth climbing six floors to see.
Along with the England football team, Neil Simon had a good year in 1966. This play ran alongside three others on Broadway, including The Odd Couple and Sweet Charity, for which Simon wrote the book. ‘The Book’ as those involved say, makes a musical. And Simon never puts a word wrong.
Nor does he put more than a toe over the frontiers of change. The newly-marrieds here may have an unconventional New York home, up on the 6th floor and no elevator, but their roles could be straight from the preceding decade. She wants love and a home. He’s starting a law career.
Can’t she see she’ll be relying on these evenings he’s working on cases to make the home? Can’t he see she wants more than to be married to a successful career?
Add the conventional unconventional foreigner (an Hungarian in the attic) and the ingredients are comic staples under a gloss of modernity. In later plays Simon extended his range – especially when going autobiographical for material. Meanwhile, a piece as well-written as this was enough.
This new production is solidly directed, designed and acted. But it wouldn’t have reached the stage without the presence of Maureen Lipman as the bride’s mother. She’s the source of the most uproarious laughter on the 6th floor. To say she steals every scene she’s in would be inaccurate. They simply leap into her lap, as if knowing their true owner.
It’s a technically brilliant performance yet also creates warmth of character beyond the voluble Jewish mother-in-law Simon’s written. And it’s unselfish. Lipman is brilliant but never at the expense of Simon’s writing or story, or the others onstage.
The timing of lines and facial expressions, sometimes slightly ajar, or one undermining the other, is flawless. And there’s physical humour; not just the voice gliding over breathlessness, but the laugh as she’s carried in, legs knocking against the doorpost, or her attempts to stand after a hefty night-out, legs seeking purchase on the floor.
Yet there’s room for the final touching moment of love and pride in her daughter. It’s a superb portrayal.
full cast and credits not available.