Review – The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Vaudeville Theatre

Tuesday 6 July 2010

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.



17 Responses to “Review – The Prisoner of Second Avenue, Vaudeville Theatre”

  1. Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

    Buster Skeggs is female?!

  2. jmc Says:

    “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!).”

    Does this qualify as a spoiler? If so, the trailer for the 1975 film (which looks abysmal) is guilty of the same thing:

  3. Chris Voisey Says:

    The film was the usual Neil Simon kvetching.

    Jack Lemmon acting pissed off which gets old very quickly.

    I can’t believe they picked this play.

  4. TooCloseToTheTable Says:

    Is Helen Dallimore involved in any way?

  5. Martin Says:

    CORRECTION Whingers

    The original Broadway Production starring Peter Falk, Lee Grant, and Vincent Gardenia, ran for 802 performances, not 80!

    Watch out for those dropped 0’s!

  6. garethjames Says:

    You really should reconsider your policy of going to previews (particularly early ones) because you’re being subjected to unfinished work for a fraction less than the finished product price. I know it enables you to review on (or before) opening but you’re losing out on enjoyment (unless you actually like not enjoying?!). After a lot more years of theatre-going than you, I’ve (almost) given them up and I feel so much better! Perhaps I should set up Previews Anonymous to help all you Preview addicts?! The twelve steps would be…..

  7. Philip Says:

    Having just seen the play this evening, I think a few points raised originally are poinient. Jeff does not shine with his wit as one would expect, but the lack of current satire as a whole was missing from the script and we did not get to see his true character value through this.
    We wanted to see a much more animated Goldblum as this is what has brought him the plausets we want and expect.
    I did however enjoy it even though the price was a little high for the experience.
    Not sure it will hit 802 shows….
    I expected more from a Neil Simon play and the director.

  8. Londy Says:

    The only funny part of the entire first half was when a member of the audience let out an explosive sneeze. I can’t comment on the 2nd half because I didn’t stay for it.

    A sample of the so-called humour:

    Edna: “Are you worried about keeping your job?”

    Mel: “I’m not worried about keeping it, I’m worried about losing it!”

    This is a dreadful play. Don’t go.

  9. Dave Felton Says:

    You realise that your “stuff-and-nonsense approach to previews” is your greatest weakness as reviewers. They’re called that for a reason and when you review in them, you partially invalidate your responses.

    • Lord Andrew Lloyds Slipper Sniffer Says:

      Thank you for elucidating something that had always confused me. I had no idea that previews were called that for a reason and I shall be very wary of going to any in the future, lest my response becomes (partially) invalid. Next you’ll be telling us they actually charge for the privilege!

  10. JohnnyFox Says:

    The script says they live at 385 East 88th Street, which isn’t far from where I used to live in NY.

    However, it’s bang on the corner of 88th and FIRST Avenue.

    I wonder why Neil Simon was so careless about this detail, clearly he didn’t have Google Maps at the time.,+New+York,+NY+10128,+USA&gl=uk&ei=j809TIaEL8q84gbH-pTGAg&sa=X&oi=geocode_result&ct=image&resnum=1&ved=0CBcQ8gEwAA

  11. […] printed press (all irony intended) but sometimes bloggers really do tickle our funny bone.  The West End Whingers’ review of Jeff Goldblum in The Prisoner of Second Avenue rescued what was – by most accounts – […]

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