23rd June, 2012
Having heard mixed reviews about Neil Simon’s comedy about a squabbling Vaudevillian double act, I am glad I managed to get a £10 day seat for the front row instead of paying much more for ticket bought in advance.
Danny DeVito said in an interview that he found the role of Willie Clark (a has-been comedy performer) appealing because Thea Sharrock is an actor’s director and you can see that she’s brought out the best performances from the cast. Act one, the building act of any play, was very enjoyable: the curtain rose to reveal a grimy, cold hotel room. We are in Willie Clark’s apartment with DeVito sunk down in a chair in his pyjamas watching the television. He excellently portrays how Clark is old and poor yet still funny; miserable yet still likeable; a has-been yet still thinking he’s top of the comedy world even though his only connection with show business is through the industry newspaper Variety in which he checks on who’s died.
Richard Griffiths (As Al Clark) gave a much subtler performance. I felt a little uneasy sitting in the front row wondering that when he looked down he was checking to see if anyone had mobile phones out or was talking. But overall, his rapport with DeVito was excellent as he kept on winding him up. DeVito, however, seemed by far the star of this show. I remember him spitting a lot and occasionally stumbling over his lines and then starting again if he did so. There was one moment that I will certainly remember for a long time which was when Lewis softly told his nephew Ben (brilliantly played by Adam Levy) how Clark ‘as an actor, no one could touch him. As a human being’ before superbly giving us the punch line ‘nobody wanted to touch him’.
The second act was disappointing. After finally being persuaded to make a TV comeback for one final time, we join them in rehearsals of their legendary Doctor sketch, but the double act soon start arguing again shortly followed by DeVito collapsing to the floor when his character has a heart attack. The last scene sees Clark in a hospital bed (back in his apartment) reconcile with Lewis. I didn’t find the sketch particularly funny apart from when DeVito ogled Rebecca Blackstone’s TV nurse and overall I thought that the ending was a little lacklustre. I was expecting some Vaudevillian spectacle at the end but instead we are left with Griffiths’ Al Clark reeling off a list of names much to Lewis’ annoyance. I read some theatregoers’ opinions on a forum saying how the ending was odd. I have to agree with them; it was like something out of a film the way the curtain went down and rose again to emphasise how Clark is talking at length.
Admittedly, my enjoyment of the second act was marred by an American woman sitting behind me talking. She wasn’t there in the first act and then left half way through act two, but for that short time she was there, she made a lot of noise through talking and rustling plastic wrappers and bottles. Furthermore, at one moment, Johnnie Fiori as the registered nurse delivered a line that got a chuckle at most from the rest of the audience but this woman decided to applaud it. I even heard her say at one moment ‘I love that man’ (referring to DeVito) which I found surprising seeing as she was talking over most of his lines.
Overall, this is a simple story about friendship and old age shown through two bickering former showbiz stars. The set was extremely impressive but the supporting cast members were made little use of and I felt that the second act didn’t seem to go anywhere.
The Sunshine Boys played at the Savoy Theatre until 28th July but there are rumours that it will play in Los Angeles and perhaps on Broadway at a later date.