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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Savoy


  Rebecca Blackstone and Danny DeVito/ Ph: Johan Persson

Neil Simon's Sunshine Boys are just as odd as The Odd Couple, which he wrote seven years earlier in 1972. One was based on Simon's own experience of living with his brother; the other was inspired by two real life veteran comedians. And to play them, or Simon's version of them – an elderly and bitterly estranged comedy duo who are persuaded to reform for one last sketch – you need to be able to convince that you have vaudeville running through your veins.

In this West End revival, Danny DeVito in his London stage debut plays Willie, the angrier half of the duo. And it's no surprise that the New Jersey-born five-foot film star convinces as a quintessential wisecracking vaudeville veteran. But whose idea was it to offer the great – in size and reputation – Richard Griffiths the role of the other half of Simon's comedy duo?

Not that being English is any barrier to playing an American. When stage actor Dominic West played the lead in the Chicago TV cop show The Wire, Americans detected no hint of his Eton past. But although Griffiths is as mesmerising as usual, under his rather too gentle New York accent there is something conspicuously cultured. It's the stuff that would grace almost any role other than a veteran vaudevillian and it feels out of place here. There is elegance, finesse and subtlety. But something coarser, harder, New Yorkier is required.

It is a quality that Adam Levy as Willie's struggling theatrical agent and frustrated nephew gets pretty close to, though not as close as DeVito. But even he seems to have reined in the misanthropic vulgarity that made him a star. And all are outshone by Simon's script.

The author hates being known as a writer of great one-liners. It gets in the way of being known as a great playwright. But it is those lines that keep Thea Sharrock's slow production from stalling. There is a suspicion here that rather like Griffiths, Sharrock knows, but is not of, the wisecracking milieu in which Simon's writing is steeped. Perhaps it's no coincidence that the director's best production to date has been After the Dance by the quintessentially English Terrence Rattigan. With Simon, who is as New York as they come, what's missing from Sharrock's production are the kind of rhythms and intonations that draw attention to lines by throwaway timing. 

Simon, DeVito and Griffiths fans will all get their fix. But apart from Hildegard Bechtler's superb set of the grimy hotel room in which Willie lives, what's missing here is the snap of dialogue and smack of authenticity.


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