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Theatre and Dance

The Sunshine Boys Pic: Keith Pattison
The Sunshine Boys 'rehearse'

The end of an era

Review by Trevor Gibbons
Trevor Gibbons watches the Sunshine Boys at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

The Sunshine Boys has a deliberate 'false' start when Willie Clark (Malcolm Rennie) wanders out on to the stage with the house lights still up and people taking their seats. Gradually as the lights fade the audience settles and Clark nods off, alone with his dreams. The audience is allowed into his dream world through numerous snatches of black and white film projected onto the set showing old music hall acts.

Vaudeville, variety, music hall call it what you will, it is the life blood of Neil Simon's play revived at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. A few American references rather miss the spot but this is a very faithful version of an American, Jewish experience.

Willie Clarke lives alone in genteel poverty with his memories, he was one half of a stage duo, Lewis and Clark, an act that ended over a decade ago when Al Lewis (Lou Hirsch) unilaterally called it a day.

When there is an offer to re-unite the duo for a TV special a deep loathing is exposed between the old stagers. Clark says of Lewis, "As an actor no one could touch him. As a human being no one wanted to!"

This is a comedy for sure but with an undercurrent of insecurity.

Malcolm Rennie as Willie Clark, pic Keith Pattison
Malcolm Rennie as Willie Clark

It is also a tour-de-force by Malcolm Rennie who is onstage for almost the entire play, after a slow start Rennie is utterly convincing as the deeply unsecure comic, still yearning for (non-existent) work and harbouring grudges for a series of real and imagined rebuffs.

Lou Hirsch gets less stage time but therefore when he makes his appearance as Al Lewis he is able to milk the lines for every comic nuance. And in Neil Simon's tightly written dialogue the one-liners come thick and fast.

Alongside the towering effort of Rennie and Hirsch, Dylan Charles as Ben Silverman (Clark's nephew and agent) makes another good impression. Especially as the time of the actual TV re-union nears and the tension and nerves grow, Charles really milks the atmosphere of mild hysteria.

However the award for doing most with a few lines must go to Melanie La Barrie as Clark's nurse. She brings the house down as an experienced and acerbic helper (mainly of the patient's chocolates).

There are even laughs in a completely wordless, but minutely rehearsed, section that sees the two grumpy old men chaotically rearrange the sparse furniture of the flat ready for an explosive rehearsal of 'The Doctor' sketch.

If you like your comedy fast and furious this is a tremendous trip into the currently fashionable 1970s. What's not to like?

We interview the director of the Sunshine Boys
The bad boys >

The Sunshine Boys runs until Saturday 19 May 2007.

last updated: 27/04/07
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