The Barron Theatre, 5 March 2011
The beginning of March saw the annual Freshers’ Plays take over the Barron Theatre for four consecutive nights. Now or Later (2nd and 3rd) and The Odd Couple (4th and 5th), directed by Emily Bray and Charlotte Branfield respectively, were this year’s plays. As is tradition, both plays were completely staged and acted by first year students, and thus allowing some of the university’s newest arriving talents the opportunity to show off and make their way in the vibrant St Andrews theatre scene.
Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple has been one of the playwright’s most successful shows, running for over 900 performances on Broadway and then spawning a film adaptation and an even more popular television series. In the 1980s, however, a new version was written, telling the same story as the original but with the genders reversed. Oscar and Felix are now transformed into Olive Madison, the scatty divorcee, and the neurotic Florence Unger, living in the same apartment after Florence’s recent split from her husband Sydney. The increasing tensions of their bachelorette lives culminates in a hilarious double date with the Spanish Costazuela brothers and ends in the girls’ separation when Florence is forced to move out.
The play opens in Olive’s scruffy apartment where she is frequently seen entertaining four friends for their weekly Trivial Pursuit night, a chance to ‘dish the dirt’ on everything in their lives. Sylvie (Eleanor Morton), Mickey (Charlotte Branfield), Vera (Jessica Walker), Renee (Beth Robertson) and Olive (Victoria Allcoat) all appeared as caricatures of the outspoken inner city woman and the group dynamic and dialogue from the offset was reminiscent of an early take on Sex and the City. However, it is not until the arrival of Florence that the play truly gets underway and it is clear that the chalk and cheese relationship between both her and Olive provides the crux of the drama.
Mimi von Schack was captivating as the over-emotional, house-proud Florence Unger and Victoria Allcoat’s laid back portrayal of Olive provided a brilliant counterpoint to Florence’s hysterical nature, treating the audience to some great comic moments. Not only did they both master the physical comedy of the play, but they also displayed great comedic timing, inducing even more laughter and interaction from the floor. My particular favourites were Joseph Cunningham and Kristofer Gravning as the Spanish Costazuela brothers, an engaging double act with funny and convincing Spanish accents.
The entire production was well-cast, and each performed with enthusiasm and skill delivering the lines in such a professional manner that the whole drama seemed natural and realistic. The choice of music, however cheesy, was fun and fitting to the tone of the play and reminded the audience of the colourful era it portrayed. Unfortunately original cast member Jocelyn Cox, who was set to play Mickey, was not able to perform due to a serious wrist injury that needed surgery. However, even at short notice the cast managed to hold the production together, with director Charlotte Branfield stepping in to the role for the final performances. Personally I felt the staging was a little one-dimensional but the team made good use of the space provided.
Maybe a minor point, but I do feel that perhaps a slightly bigger production could have been staged so that more freshers could have had the opportunity to get involved, whether it was acting, lighting or even costume.
Nevertheless, The Odd Couple is a thoroughly endearing tale of female friendship and companionship and it is no wonder why director Branfield chose this more contemporary version over the original script.
Image: Alex Howarth