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The Sunshine Boys/Epstein Theatre

Neil Simon's Manhattan comedy bathes Larry Sidorczuk in light

Written by . Published on August 22nd 2013.

The Sunshine Boys/Epstein Theatre

I'VE been looking forward to this production since the success of The Last Five Years, the first half of Life In Theatre's Broadway double-bill at the Epstein this year.

It was well worth the wait.

This time, we’re treated to the stage adaptation of Neil Simon’s classic film comedy, first portrayed with Walter Matthau and George Burns.

As in most comedy roles, timing is everything and each got them millisecond-right every time

It’s a simple but entertaining story revolving around the simmering love-hate relationship left over from the break-up of their vaudeville double-act, namely Al Lewis and Willie Clark. The resultant feelings of missed chances, betrayal and isolation have been festering away for over 40 years since Lewis decided to retire, leaving Clark alone in the acting wilderness and been left to wither away in his downtown apartment. 

The prospect of a CBS, made-for-TV reprise is the catalyst for a return to their original routine and that’s where the fun starts. And yes, I mean fun but it’s bittersweet, caustic and self-deprecating, crackling with one-liners underscored as only Simon’s New York Jewishness knows how. Willie Clark [Alan Stocks] gave a superlative performance in his pyjamas and occasional double-breasted blue blazer. Daytime TV, poor diet and the weekly visit from his nephew, Ben, are his only friends. Well, apart from the obituaries in Variety and even they’re now gradually dying away. 

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His grudges run deep as he rails against his former partner and it shows. Alan Stocks gives full flow to a huge spectrum of emotions which serve to underpin Clark’s lonely existence with Lewis as the epicentre of his blame-game. 

Likewise, Al Lewis [Andrew Schofield] excels as the ageing octogenarian, the calm eye in Clark’s emotional storm. His timing, nuances, body language and delivery are deftly delivered and command a good deal of respect. His double-handers are a perfect foil as they go through the tortured motions of trying to agree to recreate their act, then during rehearsals and the hilarious studio take. Or rather mis-take.

The routine itself [Doctor and Tax Inspector] is mildly amusing, but the crunch comes with a much-anticipated finger-poking and spittle – the equivalent of lighting Clark's blue touch paper to his pent-up personal volcano. The coruscating outcome had the audience in eye-watering stitches, myself included.

Credit, here, to Ben Silverman [Stephen Fletcher] who has the unenviable task as the middleman in the maelstrom, trying to achieve the seemingly impossible task of bringing them together for their swansong performance whilst massaging their egos and keeping things on track. Optimism is his middle name, or should be.

Some fine cameo roles as the TV production management and runner come from Mr Schaefer [Liam Tobin] and Eddie [Michael Fletcher]. Twin roles (as firstly curvaceous Virginian and, then, acerbic home Nurse) are amply portrayed by Helen Carter in every sense of the word. Set design and costumes have been created as a Life in Theatre team effort and are surprisingly good, perfectly capturing the fashions and mood of the 1970s, perhaps notwithstanding Stephen’s sideburns.

(Click here to add text)(Click here for full screen)So, overall, does it work? Absolutely…and then some.

The Life in Theatre company itself has been going barely a year and a half and, in that time, has produced a series of ground-breaking shows having created a unique home at the Epstein with a dedicated following.

The Sunshine Boys is the latest in their collective endeavours and, without doubt, easily their best. What shone through above all was the outstanding versatility of the cast in really capturing their characters and making them their own.

The New York drawl and snappy one-liners were as cronut as they come but, within that, the dialogue flowed along at a good pace with a tasty side orders of tangible animosity and score-settling. As in most comedy roles, timing is everything and each got them millisecond-right every time… even the silences spoke volumes.

So, as well as his acting talents, Stephen Fletcher’s becoming quite an accomplished director, well certainly in terms of on and off-Broadway shows.

It’s certainly a popular format and, once again, the audience were cheering for more at the end.

It’s the kind of show that deserves a second, probably even third, visit to be able to savour the full extent of this homage to the Golden Age of Vaudeville, including the aftermath of its consequences which, in this case, provides a particularly poignant and feelgood conclusion. Go and see it yourself, even better, take your friends.


*The Sunshine Boys runs at the Epstein  Theatre until September 7.

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Patricia O'neillAugust 22nd 2013.

ABSOLUTELY loved the production. Great new theatre company emerging here, doing my best to spread the word. Hoping to go see it again

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