Friday, November 29, 2019

The Odd Couple

Brian Meegan (Felix) and Steve Rodgers (Oscar)
The Odd Couple by Neil Simon.  Ensemble Theatre (Kirribilli, Sydney) November 22 – December 29, 2019.

Reviewed by Frank McKone
November 27

Director – Mark Kilmurry; Set and Costume Designer – Hugh O’Connor; Lighting Designer – Christopher Page; Dialect Coach – Nick Curnow


Speed – Laurence Coy            Gwendolyn – Katie Fitchett
Roy – Robert Jago                  Murray – James Lugton
Felix – Brian Meegan             Vinnie – Nicholas Papademetriou
Cecily – Olivia Pigeot             Oscar – Steve Rodgers

On Wednesday’s formal opening night – as I imagine will happen at every performance of The Odd Couple – as the guys finally settled down for their traditional Friday night poker game, after the upset of Felix’s two divorces plus the excitement of Cecily and Gwendolyn (one of whom was a widow not a divorcee, because her husband had died moments before the paperwork was completed), the Ensemble audience exploded like a celebratory fireworks display of laughter and applause.

Brian Meegan’s Felix’s thoroughly irritating tidiness, cleanliness and cooking surely explained why his wife had gone to a lawyer; while Steve Rodger’s warm welcoming absolute sloppiness as Oscar understandably left him with an eight-room apartment in New York and an ex-wife who seemed perfectly rational over the phone.

Mark Kilmurry did exactly the right thing by keeping the setting true to the New York culture of these already old-fashioned men when Neil Simon wrote them in 1965.  They all sounded like variations of Woody Allen to me, from the days when he was still funny.  Maybe to try to update and place The Odd Couple in Australia today just wouldn’t make a comedy.

But the joke of Oscar’s divorce and being left rambling about in an empty house, inviting the distraught Felix to move in with him – to save Felix from killing himself and Oscar from drinking himself into oblivion – and the odd couple’s inevitable divorce because of their basic personality differences, stays funny at a certain degree of distance.

20 years later, Neil Simon himself wrote a female version, where the women played Trivial Pursuit instead of poker.  But it seems to me that the comedy of Felix’s suicidal possibility might not be read in the same way for the woman, named Florence, even if set in 1980 as Simon says. 

Essentially, as Kilmurry’s directing shows, the men are so lacking in self-awareness that we can’t help laughing at their stupidity.  He made sure, though, that although Gwendolyn and Cecily (taken straight from Oscar Wilde, of course) are giggly and excitable (done perfectly by Olivia Pigeot and Katie Fitchett), they are English in Neil Simon’s American joke, and therefore show simple practicality and commonsense.  Being divorced or widowed doesn’t see them turn suicidal.  I would be very wary of reversing these roles, in 1965 or 1980, let alone today.

So, this The Odd Couple is a great success, not only for the leads Steve Rodgers and Brian Meegan and for the women, but equally for the whole team of poker players with each of their distinct personalities and particular concerns for the welfare of Felix in his dire straits.

Go along to the famous boatshed in Kirribilli, the Ensemble, and laugh yourself silly – at these men, if you’re a man; and, equally, if you’re a woman.