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The Goodbye Girl – Upstairs at the Gatehouse, London

Book: Neil Simon

Music: Marvin Hamlisch

Lyrics: David Zippel

Director: Adam Lenson

Reviewer: Harry Stern

 

It is a distant memory, but an unpleasant one sure enough. The combination of actors Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason performing the words of the masterful Neil Simon led to a keenness of anticipation for the film of The Goodbye Girl back in the latter decades of the last century. The anticlimactic disappointment of the reality remains with me some decades later. The wit of the dialogue was all but submerged under a tide of sentiment constructed on the most absurd of dramatic premises. Such was my adverse reaction to the movie that, despite its Oscar-winning credentials, I have always avoided the musical counterpart created some twenty years later. Even then it received a lukewarm reception, especially in this country. Perhaps a further passage of time would have effected a marvellous redemption of the piece.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the reality. This is a dated piece of sentimental hogwash from Simon with a surprisingly thin score from the elsewhere exemplary Marvin Hamlisch and trite lyrics from David Zippel. The fact that the piece has been directed and, consequently, acted in such a way as to dispense with any degree of layering or subtlety only serves to emphasise the folly of reviving the piece for today’s audiences. It feels like a piece from the Ark – a place where it should probably have stayed.

The story concerns a slightly over-the-hill dancer, Paula, and her daughter, Lucy, who have been abandoned by the latest manipulative and exploitative man in their lives. He has been offered a part in a film in Spain and that, it seems, is reason enough for the said gentleman to take his leave without even so much as a ‘Hasta luego!’ He simply ups sticks and leaves. He tarryies only to rent out his New York apartment to another struggling actor, Elliot, who turns up in the middle of the night to demand access to his rightful shelter. This is the cue for initial acerbic disharmony as he moves in, succeeded by an uneasy truce, followed by a softening of attitudes. A brief interlude where Elliot is shown playing Richard III as a women softens our heroine with pity for him and suddenly all disharmony has vanished and is replaced by … well I leave you to fill in the gaps.

The performances of Rebecca Bainbridge and Paul Keating as Paula and Elliot do nothing to ameliorate the flaws of the script and Adam Lenson hasn’t been able to mine the text or the songs deeply enough to discover anything worth lingering over. The ensemble is underused and while the five-piece band is competent under the direction of Richard Bates the music has the same uninspiring feel as the rest of the production. Nor can the design or the lighting be said to have helped the production elevate itself above the prosaic, both being messy and lacking much coherence or logic.

It is a creature from another era but the problem lies in the vapidity of the piece’s content which is unredeemed by this production’s inability to find anything in it worth finding. It was probably best left in obscurity.

Runs until 28thFebruary

Book: Neil Simon Music: Marvin Hamlisch Lyrics: David Zippel Director: Adam Lenson Reviewer: Harry Stern   It is a distant memory, but an unpleasant one sure enough. The combination of actors Richard Dreyfuss and Marsha Mason performing the words of the masterful Neil Simon led to a keenness of anticipation for the film of The Goodbye Girl back in the latter decades of the last century. The anticlimactic disappointment of the reality remains with me some decades later. The wit of the dialogue was all but submerged under a tide of sentiment constructed on the most absurd of dramatic premises.…

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