The Odd Couple
Queensland Theatre Company
October 22 – November 8 2015
Reviewed by Xanthe Coward
Tama Matheson (Felix Ungar) and Jason Klarwein (Oscar Madison) ARE The Odd Couple.
The successful pairing of these two, after their hilarious antics in Design For Living (2013) make Neil Simon’s sharply penned, fast paced classic comedy the funnest and funniest night of the year.
With a superb supporting cast and an impressive inner city design straight out of Tribeca (Orlando Bloom might be a neighbour), Wesley Enoch’s final production for QTC in 2015 is all class.
High production values don’t always bring us closer to the action but Designer Christina Smith has considered every detail, inviting us in and making us feel completely at home within the walls and windows of Oscar Madison’s lofty New York City apartment…well, perhaps once it’s cleaned up. (A cityscape scrim works a treat to separate us from lightning quick scene changes). Lighting by Matt Scott (with assistant Daniel Anderson) and sound design by Tony Brumpton help to establish a New York state of mind in the stalls, while the dilemmas of living with anyone else but a cat are universally recognised. (Or say, a canary, although probably not both a cat and a canary at the same time in the same house as those with cats and canaries will attest. Actually, it was a Doberman)…
Anyway! Poor slovenly, beer swilling Oscar! His life is suddenly turned upside down by the overbearing presence of his new housemate, his smartly dressed and dangerously depressed, hypochondriac buddy Felix, a stickler for using coasters and ashtrays and doing the dishes before bedtime.
The set up is brilliant – the writing is light and lovely, old fashioned yet timeless in its innocence – and the opening scene involving a major disruption to the usual Friday night poker game with good friends is hilarious, establishing wonderful, genuinely interesting characters and firm friendships, delightful to follow. We want to see more of them, get to know them better.
Tim Dashwood (Roy), Steven Rooke (Speed), Colin Smith (Murray) and Bryan Probets (Vinnie) all shine, thanks to terrific choices that have clearly come from a playful rehearsal period, and the natural comic timing and well studied accents of the actors (Voice & Accent Consultant Melissa Agnew). This is beautiful ensemble work, showcasing briefly some of our favourite performers at the top of their game.
Jason Klarwein has never more fully embraced a role, perfectly channelling every lazy guy ever, all their dreadful habits and their appalling disregard, and truly appearing to live comfortably in the self-made mess, searching for the telephone beneath piles of discarded newspaper pages, leaping on and over the couch and upending ashtrays to make a point. In gorgeous, hilarious (entirely anticipated) juxtaposition, Tama Matheson brings to the role of Felix, as well as a cheeky little tribute to Bloom’s blue blanket, the OCD tendencies that are usually vaguely apparent from the outset of any relationship and which become more and more irritating over time. We could actually be watching any couple hard at work to keep their relationship going. THE STRUGGLE IS REAL.
Particularly enjoyable are the many moments of exquisitely executed reactions to the things we can all relate to, which are necessary to keep a household running reasonably smoothly but are dealt with in different ways by different folks. Despite the physical comedy not stretching quite as far as I’d expected it to (we never reach the point of furniture being overturned during a chase around the apartment for example, or a fully realised food fight following a bowl of spaghetti – sorry linguini – being flung across the pristine kitchen surfaces) there are nevertheless such well choreographed sequences (involving coasters and cushions and cloths and a ladle) that we end up with tears rolling down our cheeks by the end of each one. Some missed opportunities? Perhaps, but the show doesn’t suffer.
Here’s something I didn’t think I’d be able to tell you. So many moments in this production are in fact funnier than those in the much-loved film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (1968), which at times, strangely, feels almost laborious when I look back at it now. It sounds like sacrilege to say so until you experience QTC’s cracking production. Each set up is beautifully crafted by Enoch and expertly manipulated by the actors. Their timing throughout is flawless and the punchlines, delivered deadpan, are all dead on. It’s a shame the English girls from upstairs (Amy Ingram and Lauren Jackson) appear to have been directed to take things a little too far over the top, presenting highly animated stereotypes rather than just the lovely silly fillies they are, which prevents these two talented performers from fitting as neatly into this production as they otherwise might.
Now. There’s some question again in the foyers and online over the role and responsibilities of reviewers, so often confused with publicists it seems. I’m not sure why this is because I don’t believe the ticket purchasing public is stupid (and nor are the creative teams that work so hard to stage and promote the shows). As theatregoers we can tell the difference between an informed review and a pull quote on a glossy poster, and we pay attention to the opinions of those we respect, which should imply some regard for a writer’s knowledge and experience within theatre making and commentating. (Sometimes the two worlds align nicely, and a pull quote used in the publicity leads to a well informed, well written review! Hooray!). No one needs to be pandered to and an honest response is far more useful than a shiny, simple write up that treats a production and it’s producers as if they are part of a new reality television series or a presidential campaign.
I don’t give star ratings and I don’t give a rave review unless a production as a complete package blows my mind. I consider my writing to have gone through many stages but the voice remains the same. I hope I’m getting closer to consistently sharing a reasonable response to a production for all its merit, and considering what hasn’t worked quite as well as it might have done, mostly as part of continuing the discussions in this country around the creation and programming of new work and also, for posterity. And also, because I love reflecting on the way creative people can’t help but tell us their stories.
The Odd Couple is a stellar production starring an astutely cast ensemble of some of our most accomplished actors. The comedy is solid and the aesthetic spot on. If you miss this, you will have seen our state theatre company’s AD of five years come and go without enjoying his best work. Don’t do such a disservice to Wesley Enoch, or to yourself and your friends and family. This is a terrific show, to which you can take anyone and come away completely satisfied, happy to have shared in a little bit of lovely, light-hearted theatrical magic. It touches on real issues, reminds us to keep working hard to make real connections with other humans, and does it all in the most delightful, life affirming way. You’ll laugh until your cheeks ache…and then you’ll go home to recognise the familiarity and hilarity of a life lived with your own Oscar Madison or Felix Ungar! Good luck!
Use this link to book before October 31 to take advantage of a special offer from QPAC.