Ken Ludwig’s backstage farce received a warm response when it opened on Broadway in 1995 under the title ‘Moon Over Buffalo’. However, this production at the Old Vic, directed by farce king, Ray Cooney, is a hit and miss affair. There are some funny scenes but the production is messy and is not fluent. Nevertheless, it is fast paced with much slapstick that prevents boredom setting in.
The story concerns two old board treaders George and Charlotte Benson who have been touring in repertoire for years but never re-gaining the fame they so crave. But when they hear that Frank Capra, a famous director is coming to one of their productions they see this as a last chance for movie stardom. However, all does not go well when hours before curtain up Charlotte discovers that George has made the understudy pregnant. This sets up a series of events that result in mistaken identities and mishaps such as George getting drunk before the performance of ‘Private Lives’, which results in reckless chaos during their aborted attempt of a performance.
This is a well-written farce by Ludwig and is performed competently, but for some reason it does not mould together well. I cannot quite put my finger on the reason for this. Maybe the actors do not compliment each other, or maybe the timing is a little out? Individually the actors are fine, but as a troop they do not gel. Frank Langella puts in a fine performance as George and certainly stands out above the rest, particularly when he is drunk. Joan Collins is also competent, and for a 68 year-old she looks fantastic, however for me Moira Lister as Ethel, Charlotte’s half-deaf mother, gives the best female performance. Her role is minor in comparison to the two main characters, but she has excellent comic timing.
The play has received mixed notices from the popular press… NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “Ken Ludwig's feeble farce struck me with all the force of a tentative nudge in the ribs.” He goes on to say, “Over the Moon is underwhelming.” BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES liked the show saying , “If we forget Michael Frayn’s Noises Off — admittedly, an impossibility — the play itself is as funny about temperamental thesps as anything since Rattigan’s Harlequinade.” CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH mildly liked play saying it was “amiable” but “underpowered”. However, he did not like Joan Collins performance saying, “There is a disastrous lack of warmth and spontaneity in her acting. She delivers every line with studied artificiality, as if it were a dud epigram in a dismal production of a play cobbled together from the contents of Oscar Wilde's waste-paper basket.” SHERIDAN MORLEY for TELETEXT says,"Thanks to Frank Langella and Cameron Blakely, this eventually takes off and runs on own carefully-laid tracks." LYN GARDNER for THE OBSERVER says, “You have to admire Collins's determination to grow old disgracefully and refusal to act her age, but here she barely bothers to act at all, letting her famous legs do all the work. No matter because Langella acts quite enough for the two of them.” PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says it is a “shrewdly edited and likeably silly production”. GERALD BERKOWITZ for THE STAGE says, "Once the farcical action gets going after a rather lifeless first half-hour, Cooney's mastery of comic timing and controlled confusion carries the evening to a satisfyingly high pitch."
I came away from the theatre feeling that the show needed tightening up. I felt that the company were still settling into their roles and maybe with a few more performances the play would be more polished. I hope so!
Links to full reviews from newspapers...
Next review by Tom Keatinge
The opening at the Old Vic of Ken Ludwig’s “Over the Moon”, directed by Ray Cooney, a reincarnation of his “Moon over Buffalo”, has mainly attracted reviews of Joan Collins (and specifically her legs), rather than the production itself. This is a shame, as it is thoroughly enjoyable, and at times hilarious. Whilst it takes 15-20 minutes for the piece to reach cruising speed, once it does, this Cooney production (as we would expect), flies.
The play is set in a theatre in Buffalo, NY, where a somewhat tired and out-dated repertory company run by husband and wife team George and Charlotte Benson is currently in residence. The couple are both bitter at the success of others, and full of “almost-made-it” reminiscence, but theatre for theatre’s sake has kept them touring the country, as their audiences slowly dwindle through the advent of TV (and, one imagines, lacklustre performances). This stagnant early pace is reversed, as the combination of a one night stand, the arrival of Roz the Benson’s daughter with her new but mistaken fiancé, the supposed intervention of a limp-wristed, hairdressing former marine, and the expected arrival of a leading Hollywood movie director, all laced with the demon drink, serve to set the piece alight with a series of well-worked and inter-linked comic moments. The play is carried by Frank Langella (George Benson), who careers, intoxicated through much of the play, from one misunderstanding to another. His comic timing and energy are tremendous. Cameron Blakely also makes an invaluable contribution to the comedy, as Roz’s fiancé Howard, the weatherman suffering from not just one, but at least three, cases of mistaken identity. Strong and enjoyable performances also come from the rest of the ensemble, including Moira Lister as the remarkably sprightly, well-aged, but almost entirely deaf grandmother.
But what of Ms Collins? Afterall, it would be wrong to imagine that people are only going to the Old Vic for the comedy. Well, this is no Olivier winning performance, but it is not meant to be. Despite some wooden moments, and an obvious preference to be one of several on stage, rather than one of only two, it is clear from start to finish that she loves every minute of her West End return. I have to say that I do not see why there has been quiet so much fuss and focus on her body. She is a later middle-aged woman who has kept her figure well, but who looks as though she might at any minute shatter into a thousand pieces. Still, as long as she receives no sudden shocks or knocks as the action of the play gathers pace, she will keep giving a commendable and entertaining performance.
“Over the Moon” is an enjoyable and mentally untaxing evening – my only concern is that it is too easy to draw comparison with Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off”, and under this scrutiny, it comes a sorry second.