Barefoot in the Park
21st May 2019
Despite its title Neil Simon's Barefoot in the Park is not set in a park. It is set in an apartment on the fifth floor of a brownstone building in New York. The play centres on newly weds Paul and Corrie Bratter. They are an unlikely pairing. Corrie is young, impulsive, immature, the only daughter of a doting, widowed mother. Paul is a staid, sensible, recently qualified lawyer. Somehow the two have met, fallen in love and had a whirlwind romance culminating in a six day honeymoon in the Plaza Hotel.
The play begins on the first day in their new home - an apartment that Corrie has found, and which Paul has not actually seen yet. It is not the Plaza Hotel. It is small - very small - the heating does not work, the bedroom is actually a dressing room, only big enough for a single bed, and the bathroom has no bathtub. And, it is five flights of stairs up. (The stairs play a crucial part in the humour of the play).
Corrie believes that love will make up for the shortcomings of their new home. Paul however is not convinced - having climbed the five flights of stairs (not including the stoop!) he arrives out of breath and lacking the enthusiasm and passion Corrie had hoped for. It's not the start to marred life either of them had expected. And the situation is about to get worse - Paul has been awarded his first case at work and has to be in court the next morning so must work all evening. Problem, there is no furniture (it hasn't arrived yet), there is no heat, there is a hole in the skylight and Corrie's mother is on her way up. Add to this an eccentric upstairs neighbour and you have a recipe for comedic disaster.
Simon draws on the discrepancy between expectation and reality, and pits contrasting personalities against each other to create comedy situations. The play looks at the nature of relationships, of expectation, and aspiration. He presents four very different characters each equally out of depth in the situation they find themselves, and each one must find the way to compromise in order to find the happiness they desire.
Neil Simon's observations of people are wry and witty. Unfortunately the performance on Monday didn't do justice to the writing. Somehow the delivery of the key lines didn't quite hit the mark and so much of the wit of the writing was lost. I didn't quite feel the chemistry between Corrie and Paul, though newcomers Kylie Archer and Daniel Hart gave fair performances. David Armstrong as Victor Velasco was a little too over the top - he just over-cooked the Albanian eccentricity. However the interaction between Paul (Daniel Hart) and Ethel (Lorna Breeze) was lovely, and there was a real sense of empathy between those two characters. Lorna Breeze as Ethel gave by far the best performance of the night.
Act two felt more settled, as if the cast had relaxed into their roles and I liked Victor much more once he had admitted to his wig and ulcer!
I'm not sure why this one didn't work for me - it is a favourite film and stage play and I had been looking forward to seeing it performed at the Royalty. I was disappointed. There have been some excellent productions recently and the Royalty team generally do comedy very well - perhaps, like Corrie and Paul, my expectations were too high? Perhaps the direction missed the comedy of the situation? Or perhaps it was simply first night nerves.
Barefoot in the Park runs until Saturday.