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24 September 2014

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Theatre and Dance

The Sunshine Boys (Pic: keith Pattison)
The Sunshine Boys heading for Leeds

The bad boys

We talk to Maggie Norris, director of the classic play the Sunshine Boys that is destined for the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

If video killed the radio star then it was TV that probably did for Vaudeville. A theatre act that could last for years touring slowly across the USA would be seen by an audience of millions with just a few minutes exposure on TV shows hosted by someone like Ed Sullivan.

The Sunshine Boys, Neil Simon's classic play, now brought to the West Yorkshire Playhouse, is based around the fictional, retired, American double act of Lewis and Clark. Years after the act's heyday a 1970's TV show wants to pay tribute to classic variety acts by giving the duo a final chance to star.

Trouble is the two old codgers can't stand each other. Much of the fun in the play comes from the battles to even get the two men together in the same room.

Maggie Norris is directing the Sunshine Boys:

"Double acts have to work together as one, and they are reliant on each other and spend a lot of time in each other's pockets. And in real life a lot of double acts do hate each other just like in the Sunshine Boys.

"As the comedians know well You have to take comedy very seriously... it is a serious business being funny and for my part comedies are difficult to direct."

If you think of the Sunshine Boys many people might recall the classic 1975 film starring Walter Mathaeu and George Burns. It still turns up regularly on TV and Maggie had had another look at it before starting rehearsals.

The writer Neil Simon is probably America's most commercial playwright but perhaps less well known in the UK. It is Maggie Norris' job to bring this story to the stage in Leeds.

"It is a great play and so rare to get one dealing with the subject of old age, and there is a touch of melancholy. Despite all the funny one-liners it is serious and deals with the effects of Willie's ageing on Ben the carer too. It is a really affectionate tribute to a lost stage era. There is also a lot of affection for this play from comedians who see a truthful tribute.

"I had to see a lot of actors at the auditions because I needed people who could do a good New York Jewish accent, are the right age, have lots of energy and can make people laugh."

Lou Hirsch as Al Lewis (pic: Keith Pattison)
Lou Hirsch as Al Lewis

Actors Malcolm Rennie (Willie Clark) and Lou Hirsch (Al Lewis) made the grade.

"The two actors are like chalk and cheese, very physically different, but both have a great presence and loads of energy. They'll need all that energy and the role of Willie is a large one, he is on stage for almost the entire show it is similar in size to the role of Hamlet."

Maggie was also the director of Bad Girls the Musical, staged recently at the WYP, and it received glowing reviews. In some quarters there was surprise at what might have seemed a cynical ripping-off of the popular TV series. Maggie had very different reasons for staging the show. She was passionate about the chances of the show as genuine musical theatre and took a lot of care to confound the critics.

Bad Girls is about to go to the West End, we will see what time has in store for the bad boys of the Sunshine Boys.

The Sunshine Boys from Friday 20 April – Saturday 19 May 2007.

last updated: 12/04/07
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