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THEATRE: 08 SEPTEMBER 2016

By GERALDINE WORTHINGTON

Barefoot in the Park, by Neil Simon | Directed by Mark Kilmurry

Ensemble Theatre | Ensemble Theatre, Kirribilli, Sydney | Until

American playwright Neil Simon is widely regarded as one of the most successful, prolific and performed playwrights of the 20th century.  He is a multi-Academy-and-Tony-Award-winner, received the Pulitzer Prize for Lost in Yonkers and has penned such classics as The Odd Couple, Sweet Charity, The Sunshine Boys and California Suite, to name just a few.

Barefoot in the Park opened on Broadway in 1963, the year Beatlemania began and the year President John F Kennedy visited West Berlin and delivered his famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech.

It won a Tony Award for director Mike Nicholas, of The Graduate fame, and featured Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley as the recently married couple.

Here at the Ensemble, the married couple, Paul and Corie Bratter, are played by Jake Speer and Mia Lethbridge. They have been married for only six days and have moved into a fifth-floor apartment in Manhattan. The apartment is a character in its own right — charming, but cramped, lofty but no lift, view of the stars but a hole in the skylight and snow is on its way.

All this makes for a tense time in the heavens because Paul has a legal case to defend and needs to prepare to impress, but the telephone doesn’t work and the furniture hasn’t been delivered.

Mia Lethbridge and Jake Speer are both solid and successful in their roles and successfully overcome the stereotypical. But it left to the supporting roles to provide the LOL comedy and to steal the show.

Georgie Parker as Corrie’s neurotic, incongruous and bizarre mother is excellent, as are Daniel Mitchell as Victor Velasco, the apartment’s eccentric, rent-owing resident, and Jamie Oxenbould as the laconic telephone repair man. All of whom are challenged by the stairs.

They are ably assisted by voice coach Melissa Agnew, who elicits authentic accents, and Mark Kilmurry, whose sharp direction ensures the pace of the script is snappy and subtly up-dated, whilst Alicia Clements’ set design is worth the price of admission alone.

This show is not going to stress your intellect or shock your sensibilities.  Rather, it is simply a couple of sit-com episodes staged together — a snapshot of everyday customs, attitudes, and social events, revealing contradictions and paradoxes. It also reveals the probable influence Simon had on Seinfeld. Worth a look!

Above: Daniel Mitchell and Georgie Parker.

Below: Jake Speer and Mia Lethbridge.

Bottom: Mia Lethbridge and Jamie Oxenbould.

All images: Clare Hawley.