Isn’t it wonderful to see actors up there on the stage, relaxed and enjoying themselves?
Even if it is only for 60 seconds during the curtain call.
The Whingers have a stuff-and-nonsense approach to previews but it’s fair to say that this attempt to whip up an old Neil Simon confection may well be only half-baked. By the time it opens on 13th July, perhaps director Terry Johnson will have the thing bubbling happily away but last night it was sizzling like a plate of cold tapioca.
The story of The Prisoner of Second Avenue is this: Jeff Goldblum (The Fly) scored a critical, popular and Whingular hit alongside his mate Kevin Spacey in Speed-The-Plow two years ago at the Old Vic. They had a great time. Jeff said, “We must do it again some time” and Kev said, “I’m a bit busy but why doesn’t the Old Vic put on its first ever West End production starring you? We’ll get Sonia Friedman on board. Book the Vaudeville. It’ll be great.”
Quite how anyone came up with this peculiar Neil Simon “comedy” as a vehicle is more difficult to imagine. Despite the renewed timeliness of the subject matter of unemployment (“There are no jobs for a 47 year old man”) and purse-tightening (expect a Royal Gala Performance soon) Neil Simon’s humour really doesn’t seem to have weathered very well. For the Whingers there were only two moments of laugh-out-loud comedy and those both involved Jeff Goldblum getting a bucketful of water poured over him (very impressive!). We were hoping that They’re Playing Our Song might just have been a one-off dud but frankly this isn’t much funnier
Anyway, Mel Edison (Goldblum) and his wife Edna (Mercedes Ruehl) live in apartment 14a on 88th Street and Second Avenue. He loses his job and has a mental breakdown but recovers bemusingly quickly in the end.
Andrew slumped lower and lower in his seat (somewhat grumpily) but Phil found Goldblum and Ruehl highly watchable. But even he felt the former’s natural charisma seemed to work against his downtrodden character slightly. Goldblum’s incessant whinging really should have produced more empathy from us as exponents of the art and if he needs any tips about how to crank up the level of his railing against the world the Whingers will happily make themselves available for a modest fee.
POSA is basically a two-hander although rather extravagantly there’s a sudden influx of Mel’s siblings, Jessie, Pearl, Harry and Pauline, in the last half hour giving the leads a chance to take power naps. Nice seventies costuming, decent American accents, especially since they’re up against the real McCoy and Patti Love‘s Jessie is enjoyably twittery. The sofa cushions are to die for.
But there are technical problems: the projected TV news segments to cover the scene changes were 100% inaudible and those sitting in the the front row of the stalls are blinded by Neil Austin’s lighting. But these can all be fixed. It might be more difficult for Goldblum and Ruehl to develop sufficient chemistry to make them seem like husband and wife. And for director Terry Johnson to find a way of wringing some humour out of it. Or, indeed, some conviction.
If not, it may be worth just trying to shoehorn a few more drenchings into the plot.
The original production was directed by Mike Nichols and starred PETER FALK!!! It ran for 800 performances.
The understudy for Mel’s three sisters is the wonderfully monikered Buster Skeggs. Sensitive Aussies (if such things exist) may take umbrage at her biog in the programme which kicks off : “Buster is thrilled to be back in London, having spent the past 12 years in Australia.” Now THAT’s funny.