by Neil Simon.

Library Theatre To 27 February 2010.
Mon-Thu 7.30pm Fri-Sat 8pm Mat Thu & Sat 3pm.
Runs 2hr 25min One interval.

TICKETS: 0161 2236 7110.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 18 February.

Minor Simon including a performance that definitely ought to be on stage.
In the run-up (rather than wind-down) to leaving its home of 60-years, Manchester’s Library Theatre Company aptly returns to Neil Simon, whose plays they have repeatedly produced with success. And though this 1979 sentimental comedy about the meeting of a scriptwriter and his 19-year old daughter, who’s travelled across America to see if he’ll give her a hand into Hollywood 16 years after he left home, is far from Simon’s finest, it just about earns this Library revival under director Paul Jepson.

Libby’s impulsive optimism, even when expressed in some dubiously decorative paintings on the walls, sets off the staleness of middle-age grinding into career failure and personal bitterness. The third character, father Herb’s girlfriend Steffy, is little more than oil and buffer for the family reunion, though Elizabeth Carling makes clear the frustration of being kept at a distance by Herb’s bitterness.

Paul Wills‘s set, a home past its best, going-on downright shabby, is the perfect mirror of its occupier’s mindset. The glass-panelled porch shows the women early-on, either side of the door, looking questioningly over their shoulders at each other.

While Libby freshens up her father’s life, even persuading him to talk briefly on the ‘phone to her mother, and leaving him settling down to work, perhaps the most optimistic thing she does is realise an actor’s life is not for her. Ironically for a playwright successful on Broadway and in screen adaptations, Simon concludes that, for human happiness, the best pictures are family photos.

Stuart Fox, rich-cadenced and distinctive as ever, makes the most of Herb’s ironic wit and self-pity in his settled relationship with Steffy and when defending himself in the unpredictable one with his daughter without losing sympathy. You can see why he’s creatively blocked, but also believe he could once write A-list scripts.

Yet it’s Kirsty Osmon’s Libby who kicks the script, like her father, into life. Chirpy and perky, resilient against her father’s depressive remarks, lively in voice and ever-mobile youthful energy, Osmon charts Libby’s progress towards realising her own future, while keeping her optimistic, impulsive energy alive in a fine professional debut.

Libby: Kirsty Osmon.
Steffy: Elizabeth Carling.
Herb: Stuart Fox.

Director: Paul Jepson.
Designer: Paul Wills.

2010-02-22 01:20:15

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