Priory Theatre, Kenilworth
7 September – 17 September 2011
The Odd Couple is probably Neil Simon’s most popular work, spawning two films, three TV series and this gender-swapped version of the original play – pretty much identical to that original in all other ways.
Olive is something of a slob who would much rather watch a sports game on TV while drinking beer than make her apartment neat or bother with fresh food or being the genial hostess. All the action is set in her apartment. Her five friends regularly come by to play Trivial Pursuit and socialise. One of these, Florence, leaves her husband at the start of the play and arrives at Olive’s in a suicidal mood. Rather than see her come to harm, Olive offers to let her move in. Unfortunately, Florence is a compulsively neat and efficient person, the antithesis of Olive, and the strain on them both soon becomes apparent. Things come to a head after Florence’s behaviour scuppers a potential romantic rendezvous with the Spanish brothers from the apartment upstairs. In the ensuing argument, Olive tells her to leave and Florence does so, although her final destination is a big surprise for Olive.
This is a good script with a lot of very funny lines and situations. There were points, especially in the second act, where the back and forth banter between Olive and Florence just hit the right spot. Sadly, this wasn’t the case in every scene and there was a pedestrian feel especially to the first scene when the group is playing Trivial Pursuit. My experience of having a group of friends around, playing games and drinking is that things are rather chaotic and noisy. In this case, everyone spoke neatly in turn and things dragged somewhat. This is something that ought to have been addressed by the director. A similar problem was evident in many subsequent scenes. A simple example: in one scene, Florence is entertaining the Spanish brothers while Olive is in the kitchen area getting breaking up ice with a hammer, yet not once do we hear any noise from the kitchen, despite there being no door. A small point, but it would have added to the tension in the main scene and the general feeling of mayhem.
Despite that, and once you have adapted to the sluggish pace, there is still much to enjoy here. Charlotte Froud played an excellent Florence with good comedy timing. Esther Dunn was suitably loud and obnoxious as Olive and generally played well against Florence, although her excessive hand gestures did irritate somewhat. Of the rest, Mike Connell was very believable as Manolo Costazuela, one of the Spanish brothers, his sibling needing work on his accent in particular. I also enjoyed the uptight Vera, played by Tracy Pullen.
A reasonably entertaining evening, despite the feeling that it could have been so much more.