Review: The Sunshine Boys

It’s the 1970s. Willie Clark (Danny DeVito) goes day by day in his striped pyjamas, staring at his black and white TV, waiting for Wednesday when his nephew will arrive with fresh milk and a copy of the Variety showbiz newspaper. Mundane, monotonous, miserable. But Clark is not just a lonely old man – he is one half of Vaudeville duo Lewis & Clark, who performed together for almost 50years, but have spent the last decade not speaking. When

© Johan Persson 2012

Clark’s nephew Ben (Adam Levy) lands him a position on a TV show reuniting old comics, the embittered pair must meet face to face once again.

Neil Simon’s play about The Sunshine Boys questions age-old feuds, what really makes something funny, and what to do when you finally admit you’re getting old. At the swanky Savoy Theatre, director Thea Sharrock (13, After The Dance, and Cause Célèbre) brings together two living comic legends – Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths – in this hilarious real-life story.

It goes without saying that DeVito is a master of laughter – despite or maybe because of his small stature, his big personality is easily transferable from screen to stage, and he slips easily into the grumbling character of Clark. Mainly through physicality, the laughs kept coming throughout the performance – however there was also a surprising tenderness in the second act after Clark falls ill. The slowness and concentration were a beautifully sensitive contrast to the light-hearted nature of the play.

Griffiths, playing Clark’s nemesis Al Lewis, was a bumbling, quieter presence on stage, but no less important or impressive. With superb timing and a personality to counteract DeVito’s almost overwhelming charisma, Griffiths played Lewis as the retired character he was, but still with that twinkle of mischief and teasing that made the comic pair such a goldmine.

Taking the role of Clark’s nephew Ben, Adam Levy was a frantic but optimistic person on the set – bustling between the feuding old men, he remained eternally certain of their future together. It must be hard to perform next to two such well-known comedians, but Levy held his own as the New York agent.

With a wonderfully realistic set by Hildegard Bechtler that transformed from neglected flat with all the knick-knacks, to 70s TV show set, and back again, The Sunshine Boys is a feel-good story that gets everyone laughing, regardless of the age. I had the pleasure of taking my father to see it, and he chuckled away as much as I did from our back-row seats. This show is a must-see, not just for the rare opportunity to see Griffiths and DeVito side by side, but to enjoy the fantastic world of Simon’s writing and humour.

 

The Sunshine Boys runs at the Savoy Theatre, London until the 28th July 2012. For more information visit www.sunshineboystheplay.com

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