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(23rd April 01 to 23rd June 01)
Review by Darren Dalglish
Neil Simon won a Tony Award when the Odd Couple was first produced on Broadway in 1965. Who then would have guessed that a ‘female’ version would be produced 35 years later? In Neil Simon's own re-write Oscar and Felix have now been transformed into Olive and Florence, and what a delightful transformation it is.
The story concerns divorced Olive, a slob of a woman who hates housework and cooking. When her friend Florence is kicked out by her husband, Olive invites her to move in. Florence is the total opposite of Olive, she loves cooking and is very house-proud. What ensures is a battle of wills that mirrors their disastrous marriages and now threatens their friendship.
Olive is played like a tomboy and Florence a dippy housewife that ‘almost’ gives the impression that a lesbian relationship is forming, particularly when Olive is late home from work and is chastised by Florence. However, this thought is quickly dispelled as Olive attempts to bed the two Spanish guys that live in the flat above.
The show is not much different to the original with Florence portrayed as a hypochondriac with an obsessive character trying to domesticate her friend, and Olive trying to prove just how ‘masculine’ and independent she can be. Their relationship soon becomes a replica of their failed marriages and ends in the inevitable divorce.
Jenny Seagrove as ‘Olive’ and Paula Wilcox as ‘Florence’ make a great double act, which is so important for the play to work. This is because I don’t find many funny lines in Simon’s play. Instead, it relies more on characterisation and so the whole play rests on the cast clicking and these two pull it off wonderfully.
This production has received mixed notices from the popular press.... NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "A winning couple but the play lets them down." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES describes Simon's re-write as a "delightful feminisation of his Odd Couple". CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "For a night of entertaining escapism, Elijah Moshinsky's production could prove just the ticket." SHERIDAN MORLEY says, "The show is not as funny as the original.....but it brings some much-needed laughter to Shaftesbury Avenue in a gloomy time." "PETER HEPPLE for THE STAGE says, "Elijah Moshinsky's direction is sharp and slick, and there is good interaction between Olive and her assorted mates...But overall the male version is more true to life." MADDY COSTA for THE GUARDIAN says, "Elijah Moshinsky's lacklustre production is no comedy classic...Part of the trouble is that this tale doesn't translate well to women." JONATHAN MYERSON was not too impressed either saying, "I'm not saying I didn't laugh, but we all walked away knowing we'd watched something unenlightening and desperately old-fashioned."
Elijah Moshinsky’s production of “The Female Odd Couple” is not belly aching comedy, but rather gentle and enjoyable light entertainment.
To my mind, Neil Simon’s The (Female) Odd Couple, a reworking of the original play made famous as the Matthau/Lemmon film, currently playing at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue, just doesn’t quite work. Intended to be a comic piece, the jokes were often so weak that the audience hardly acknowledged them, the acting was barely adequate and as for the accents – ouch! They seemed to move between New York City and various UK industrial regions.
The story is simple enough. The weekly Trivial Pursuit gathering that takes place in Olive’s (Jenny Seagrove) Riverside Drive apartment on New York’s Upper West Side is thrown into turmoil when Florence (Paula Wilcox) fails to turn up on time. She finally appears, having spent the day wandering the city’s shops and museums, and it emerges that she has separated from her husband and is feeling suicidal. Whilst the girls all try and act as if nothing has happened, Florence eventually brings the evening to a premature conclusion with her discussion of her marital problems. Olive who also separated from her husband some months earlier offers Florence a room in her apartment until such time as she has pulled herself together.
And so the relationship between the two develops, and Elijah Moshinsky’s production begins at last to take off. We can see why Florence’s husband might perhaps have had enough of her, as her insistence on tidiness, diet and organisation collides head on with Olive’s chaotic existence. Whilst this in itself is vaguely interesting and sometimes entertaining, it is not really until we are into the second half and the Spanish brothers (Qarie Marshall and Vincent Carmichael) Manolo and Jesus (“yes that’s Jesus, but without the J”) enter the scene that “comedy” eventually arrives. Olive has finally decided that after two weeks of living together, it is time that she and Flo reintroduced themselves to the opposite sex. The pre-dinner scene in Olive’s flat is highly amusing as the two brothers grapple with their limited mastery of the English language, and Flo swings from prude to flirt.
So where does this all end? Olive’s plans are scuppered by the latest bout of Florence’s hypochondria and she finally decides that she has had enough of Florence in her flat, so she throws her out, along with her pots and pans and cleaning agents – straight into the sympathetic arms of the Spanish brothers.
Many will no doubt love this production – followers of Neil Simon, and those that understand this kind of comedy – but as a thirty something male, The (Female) Odd Couple left me cold and unmoved.