Writer: Neil Simon
Director: Robin Herford
Neil Simon’s longest-running Broadway hit gets its revival in sleepy Sonning. It’s the early 1960s and Corrie and Paul have only been married six days. In a haze of marital bliss, they return from their honeymoon to their new 5th-floor home. The cracks in their relationship almost immediately appear.
Barefoot in The Park has not aged particularly well. As a modern audience member, it is upsetting to know that Paul and Corrie’s relationship may be relatable. They keep a lot from each other and have strict gender-based roles. There are also jokes and phrases which have aged so badly that they are now offensive and should have just been cut, such as the physical movements when talking about South-East Asian culture, the slur used about the Romany people and the Mr & Mrs Boscoe joke that was so confusing: was it just homophobic or transphobic too? Although the outdated themes are integral to the play, a decision could have easily been made at some point to modernise the more uncomfortable points.
The production itself is much more charming than the script. The leading couple, played by Jonny Labey and Hannah Pauley, are full of charisma and chemistry. Their characterisations are perhaps a little heavy-handed but it makes sense for what the show is and both their marital bliss and spats are believable. Rachel Fielding gives a stand-out performance as Mrs Banks. Fielding is efficient in her comedy, hitting every beat physically or otherwise, and is just a delight.
James Simmons as the sexually aggressive upstairs neighbour Victor Velasco is at times a difficult watch. Simmons employs an ambiguous European accent, perhaps on purpose as Velasco’s nationality is never revealed. It is difficult to fairly judge what is clearly a talented and skilled cast as the script does not give any of them a huge deal to work with. There is no real obstacle or tension, there are no engaging themes and the plot is minimal. The whole thing could have be about twenty minutes shorter: a sweet love story, an antidote to the heavy outside world.
The set, costume and lighting design by Michael Holt, Natalie Titchener and Graham Weymouth respectively are utilitarian. All the elements of design work together perfectly to dress the stage in the exact way you would expect a play like this to be staged.
If you are looking for theatre that excites or has you on the edge of your seat you’d better give this one a miss. If you are looking for a lighthearted evening out and you have a stronger stomach for ‘of its time’ humour then this is the play for you.
Runs until 20 August 2022