Distinctive amateur drama
in Northampton since 1932
Registered Charity No. 294848
The Sunshine Boys
by Neil Simon
Cast & Crew
Willie Clark Les Necus
Ben Silverman Jeremy Smith
Al Lewis Ian Spiby
Patient Owen Warr
Eddie Richard Jordan
Nurse San-D Godoy
Registered Nurse Denise Swann
Voice of TV Director Martin Williams
Director Mindy Robinson
Stage Manager Robert Vaughan
Assistant Stage Manager Chris Vaughan
Set Design Derek Banyard
Set Construction Derek Banyard, Mark Mortimer
Lighting Design Richard Walker
Lighting Technician Natalie Lane
Sound Design Mindy Robinson
Sound Technician Martin Williams
Script Continuity Ingrid Heyman
Costumes Clare Brittain
Poster Design Tamsyn Payne
Programme Mindy Robinson
Ian Spiby and Les Necus in a publicity photo for The Sunshine Boys. Photo by Joe Brown
Production No. 366
Mindy Robinson, director
“If Broadway ever erects a monument to the patron saint of laughter, Neil Simon would have to be it," wrote Time magazine. He has written 28 plays and holds the record for the greatest number of hits in the American theatre.
Simon wrote The Sunshine Boys in 1972 and believes it to be some of his best work. Though set in New York , it is about the universal problems of old age, failing health, loss of power and the unwillingness to admit when time has won the battle. Two old vaudeville stand-up comedians meet again after many years of estrangement. Like any long relationship, old resentments surface, old grudges rankle; but the deep respect they have for each other shines through. They are the embodiment of the legendary – they are Chaplin, Bob Hope, Laurel and Hardy, they are The Sunshine Boys. Although it is an occasionally uneasy mix of sentiment and farce, it works its magic by way of its lovingly observed old geezers and the humorously concocted situation they are thrown into - a testy reunion for a TV special after 40 years. The play depends totally on the sparring between Lewis and Clark. Clark is a virtual recluse who talks more about working rather than actually initiating plans to work. Lewis is a more guarded old retiree whose dead pan facade turns to playful guile when the two old-timers are temporarily reunited in the hopes that they will do their famous "Doctor" skit for a TV show.
12 - 16 May 2009
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Sheep Street, Northampton
Page last updated: 16/02/2013 Masque Theatre © 2013
Ursula Wright, Masque Theatre member
The relationship between husband and wife is a common enough theme in drama; the “marriage” of two partners in a theatrical double act is as full of complexities but is rarely explored.
Neil Simon, the most prolific and most performed of American comedy writers, takes as his subject a pair of ageing vaudeville performers, once top of the bill but now all but forgotten, and estranged after a bitter falling-out eleven years previously. Both widowers, Al the straight man lives with his daughter and her family. Willie, the comic, lives alone in a seedy one-room apartment (effectively suggested by Derek Banyard’s peeling set), isolated from the world except for a battered old TV set, a telephone connection to the janitor and weekly visits from his nephew who is also his agent. Their separated lives are unexpectedly re-connected when the nephew arranges a performance of their famous comedy sketch on a popular TV programme. Predictably, the reunion is painful, acrimonious and richly comic.
Les Necus as Willie Clark gave the audience a master-class in comic timing and characterisation. His mobile, expressive face illustrated all the layers of Willie’s life and personality, from his Alka-Seltzer audition “I have the perfect face for an upset stomach”, his point-scoring, triumphant “Enter!” to the crumpled bravado of the final scene. The timing of the wisecracks and punch-lines was impeccable: audience laughter came frequently, and in all the right places, but we never lost sight of the lonely, vulnerable actor resisting to the end the loss of his craft and his public.
Responsibility for setting up the gags lies with the “straight” man, and in this respect Les was admirably served by Ian Spiby as Al Lewis and by Jeremy Smith as his nephew Ben. Ian gave his character the perfect physical embodiment of a faded star: the carefully groomed hair, the studied gestures and practised smile, the technique of playing out front to an imaginary audience. His performance showed clearly the skills which Willie grudgingly acknowledges in his partner: “he was the best” and made perfectly credible the love-hate relationship which had sustained them. Jeremy brought charm and sincerity to the pivotal role of the nephew, by turns infuriated by his uncle and concerned for him. His role underpins the whole structure of the play, and the clarity of his performance ensured a most satisfying evening’s entertainment.
San-D Godoy as the pneumatic TV sketch nurse and Denise Swann as the real nurse who brings Willie starkly face-to-face with his diminishing options, setting up the ironic conclusion to the play, both illustrated beautifully in their performances the contrast between the illusory and the factual aspects of a performer’s life. Owen Warr and Richard Jordan both made brief but well-characterised appearances in the TV studio scene, as did Martin Williams’ voice as the impatient director.
Mindy Robinson’s sure and sensitive direction brought out clearly both the comedy and the pathos of the story. The play has been described as “a seriously funny love-letter to Vaudeville” and Mindy delivered that letter to the audience with integrity and skill. Along with the rest of the audience, I laughed throughout at the dialogue and the characters, and was moved to tears by the underlying truths about old age and life in the theatre. Masque members who didn’t, or couldn’t, get to see the production, missed a real and rare treat!