Friday, February 23, 2024



Last of the Red Hot Lovers 

Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Anne Somes. Associate director and set designer Cate Clelland. Costume designer Fiona Leach. Lihting designer  Mike Moloney. Sound designer Neville Pye. Theatre 3. Canberra Repertory Society, February 22-March 9. 2024. Bookings: 62571950.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Canberra Rep has scored a winner with its latest production of its 2024 season. Neil Simon’s cautionary tale of temptation and infidelity is given a stylish, slick and entertaining production that is an ideal choice for Canberra’s long-standing repertory company. Last of the Red Hot Lovers is laced with irony and Simon’s trademark wit. Barney Cashman (David Cannell) is facing a mid-life crisis. The 47 year old owner of a fish restaurant has been faithfully married to Thelma for 23 years, but finds life and opportunity slipping by and decides that it is time to embark on a marital affair. His clumsy attempts with sophisticated and experienced Elaine (Victoria Tyrrell Dixon) offers little comfort to a man inexperienced in infidelity. Nor does his liaison with fantasizing paranoid bimbo Bobbi(Stephanie Bailey) provide fulfilment. Barney is forced to face reality when confronted by his best friend’s wife, Jeannette (Janie Lawson), a middle-aged neurotic depressive out to avenge her husband’s infidelity. Simon cleverly introduces each woman separately in the three acts of the play. Only Cannell appears in each act, which is a demand that Cannell meets superbly. He is a natural clown while also capturing the vulnerability of a man confronting the anxiety of his illicit encounters.

Director Anne Somes has cast the production with an eagle eye for the distinctive personalities in Simon’s rib-tickling comedy. Tyrrell Dixon perfectly plays the detachment of a woman in search of her own sexual gratification to give her life meaning. Stephanie Bailey is outstanding as the goofy neurotic nightclub singer fabricating a life of fame and adventure, fused by the haze of pot. Bailey’s performance shines with the promise of a bright theatrical future. Lawson’s Jeannette is a difficult role, created as a voice of conscience and reality by Simon, with the possible touch of autobiographical reflection. Lawson has been well cast as the mirror image to Cannell’s Barney. Simon has left his moralising to the final act as a warning of the dangers of the mid-life crisis and the consequences of embarking on an affair.

Daved Cannell as Barney Cashman

It is Cannell’s perfectly timed performance of the bumbling Barney and his skill in conveying the pathos of the sad clown’s physical business that makes his performance a highlight to savour. Somes directs her cast with assurance and empathy for each character’s vulnerability. She balances the hilarious comedy and wit of Simon’s situations with a deeper appreciation of human frailty in a production that is guaranteed to entertain and offer food for thought.

Rep’s usual high production standards are again evident in Clelland’s set design and sound designer Neville Pye’s choice of popular 60’s hits as a homage to the period of the play. My only quibble is with the lighting changes and unnecessary cross fades from Barney’s mother’s apartment to the couch. Maybe they are there to focus on the unsuccessful attempts at seduction, but with a cast as strong as this and a director as clear-sighted the play could be staged without the distraction of puzzling lighting changes at the preview.

Rep has again produced a show by a master of comedy that may appear dated to some but will still have you laughing out loud and maybe taking a moment for personal introspection. Whatever the case, you can be guaranteed a great night of entertainment at the theatre.