The Odd Couple (Queensland Theatre Company)
QPAC, The Playhouse
October 17 – November 8
Who would have thought that the comedy of the much-loved 1968 film “The Odd Couple” could be as fresh today as it ever was? Outgoing Queensland Theatre Company’s Artistic Director, Wesley Enoch, that’s who. And the result is a stellar show of non-stop humour and a lot of heart.
It’s Friday night at Oscar Maddison’s (Jason Klarwein) place and an assortment of his friends are gathered for their ritual poker game. Talk soon turns to the absent Felix (Tama Matheson) and in particular, his artisan sandwiches. Clearly it is unlike him to be a no-show. And before long the reason emerges as to why. Suddenly single after his wife has kicked him out, the news journalist soon turns up on the doorstep of his friend. Cleary the men are absolute opposites in lifestyle and disposition; Oscar lives in a cigar-hazed Hawaiian shirt world away from Felix’s highly-strung mannerly presence of pastels and bow ties. Empathetically in response to his friend’s woe, Oscar offers Felix a room in support of his transition to new-found bachelorhood. Besides which, unlike Oscar, Felix clearly knows his way around a ladle so can save them money by cooking at home.
And so begins the soap opera of their merged worlds of cold-cuts and coasters. Oscar thinks Felix needs to loosen up (even his hair is uptight), while control-fiend Felix just wishes Oscar would call if he’s going to be late for dinner. As the duo bicker like husband and wife the story gains momentum until after intermission when Oscar celebrates some payback for Felix’s first Act annoyances in quest for a breakup of their bromance. Initially their co-habitation conflict is passive-aggressive but things soon escalate almost into full farce and as truths are told, pasta is flung and the apartment upturned in a hilarious sequence of events
Christina Smith’s styling is deliberately ambiguous. Instead of cut off rooms, the retro renovated New York apartment set is open plan in nature, but still full of distinct sections and doorways to allow for slapstick elements. To also enhance its New York setting, all of the accents are consistent and easy-on-the-ear, particularly from the poker players Tim Dashwood as Roy, Steven Rooke as Speed, Colin Smith as Murray and Bryan Probets as Vinnie. Each represents a sliding scale between Oscar and Felix and they bring their different representations of masculinity to life in distinct but equally noteworthy performances, clearly comfortable in their individual and combined roles in the narrative. Indeed, the poker scenes are a real treat in their comfortable capture of typical male reactions to problems.
As the ‘sweet bits of crumpet’ from the apartment upstairs, the two Pigeon sisters, Gwendolyn (Lauren Jackson) and Cecily (Amy Ingram), in Oscar Wilde tribute, appear almost like an over-the-top French and Saunders type giggly double-entendred caricature sketch, however, are gleeful editions to Act Two. Indeed, Ingram shows some of her best work when though mere glance or ordinary word she elicits some of the biggest audience laughs.
Clearly, however, the show belongs to the charismatic coupling of Klarwein and Matheson sharing the stage again after 2013’s “Design for Living”. Physically the two project perfectly into the roles and their natural rapport and synergy is immediately evident. As the Mary-Poppins-male Felix Ungar, Matheson is simply fantastic: fastidious, uptight and full of compulsive neurosis. And as happy-go-lucky but slovenly sports writer Oscar Madison, Klarwein is likeable, especially in his attempts to convince Felix that they need to get out and meet people, which reveals a certain vulnerability in his reflection that it is the lack of female company (“something soft”) that is getting to him most. Indeed, he brings a lot of charm to the role, despite being, at times, sarcastic and unapologetic, thanks to a high-energy performance that never wanes but rather goes from strength to strength as the story progresses.
Playwright Neil Simon is an American institution and there is certainly no doubting his position as one of the wittiest writers of the twentieth century. The fact that a show that is familiar can still generate such spontaneous laugher is a testament to this. And audiences will adore it accordingly. In this final directorial work, Enoch has created a charming piece of entertainment, full of nostalgia but also brisk and upbeat in nature, making it one of 2015’s highlights about which audiences are sure to be sharing suggestion with everyone they possibly can.