Neil Simon’s quaint Barefoot in the Park makes a lovely addition to the Ensemble Theatre’s season this year.
The play originated on Broadway, where it had an impressive run and won a string of awards, and was later adapted into a film version starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford.
Set in the early 1960’s, the story is simple: newlyweds Corie and Paul have moved into their first apartment together, and even though the furniture hasn’t arrived, the skylight in the living room is broken and the bedroom is hardly big enough for a bed, their wedded bliss is prevailing. For now.
Cracks soon begin to show, however. Paul, a junior lawyer, finds himself overcommitted at work. Ethel, Corie’s mother, continues to drop in unannounced. And their colourful upstairs neighbour Victor Velasco uses their window to access his own apartment to avoid seeing the landlord.
In a flash of inspiration, Corie suggests the foursome have dinner together in a bid to match-make her mother with Victor. Hilarity ensues, due to copious amounts of ouzo and a poor choice of restaurant (Albanian, Victor’s favourite). Cue a buoyant second half.
Mia Lethbridge leads the cast with effervescence. Her Corie is playful, bright and full of spirit. Lethbridge finds the perfect balance between naïve suburban girl and headstrong modern woman, and has some delightful moments.
Up-tight and stuffy, Paul can be a difficult character to like. But Jake Speer makes it easy. He’s quietly charming and gives a sincere performance. Speer matches Lethbrigde’s energy wonderfully, and together they shine.
Georgie Parker brings her natural intuition to the character of Ethel, and she’s a delight to watch. Her performance is full of depth, and her comedy is sophisticated and restrained. Combine this with magnetic Daniel Mitchell as flirtatious Victor, and you’ve got a superb comedy duo.
Dark horse of the show is Jamie Oxenbould, who manages to squeeze every last bit of comedy out of his cameo appearances. His comedy is detailed and he lights up every scene.
The production is beautifully designed by Alicia Clements on set, and Scott Allan on lights.
Director Mark Kilmurry has captained yet again another great production for the Ensemble. It’s pacey and exuberant, and while a lot of that comes from the script the cast work extremely hard to keep it bouncing along.
Much of the tension achieved by Simon comes from the strains Corie and Paul are feeling on their relationship. The play was written in a time when divorce was much less common, so perhaps the impact is a little lost on today’s audiences. The comedy however remains untainted.
This play will clearly be a box office pleaser, and is bound to have sell-out shows throughout its season. Don’t miss it.
Alana Kaye – Theatre Now