‘I actively enjoyed the datedness’: BAREFOOT IN THE PARK – Sonning

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Mill At Sonning – until 27 August 2022

Once again, off to this most enticing dinner-theatre embedded in a historic treasure, its big real watermill whirling away in the bar and the Thames swishing past outside in the sunshine. I reviewed Jonathan O’Boyle’s stunning production of Irving Berlin’s Top Hat at the venue and am happy to report that the production is coming back for Christmas – 16 November to 30 December. Some Cooney and Coward meanwhile, and the Culture Recovery Fund grant has been (wisely) spent on some air-handling for the age of post-Covid caution. So it’s well up and running again, a Berkshire treat.

This one – wistfully framed in Paul Simon songs – is a gentle two-hour squib about New York newlyweds. Neil Simon’s play made a famous movie rom-com with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. It is now, of course, quite wonderfully dated,  not to say nostalgic: it’s pure 1960s, though not in the louche Rolling-Stones way wistful moderns imagine the period.    Hannah Pauley is prettily frisky and naively romantic as Corrie, nicely catching that period when girls felt independent and free in jeans but didn’t cohabit before marriage, or particularly feel they had to go on working once they’d done it, as long as they put dinner on the table and faffed about with furniture (it’s all there in early Jilly Cooper novels, honest. And  I remember it from my schoolfriends’ much older sisters).

Jonny Labey is splendidly gruff as the young lawyer husband who is anxious to get on, beguiled but baffled by the irrationality of his very young bride, and who, in their explosive first quarrel, tucks himself up on the sofa for the night clutching his briefcase for comfort. Another enchantingly dated aspect of the play is Simon’s introduction of a Funny Foreigner, James Simmons as Victor Velasco the upstairs lodger. Who is possibly Hungarian, or Greek, or Polish,  lovably exotic anyway, and who drags the couple out to an Albanian restaurant on Staten Island, complete with Corrie’s conventional widowed mother. Who, of course, ends up next day in his dressing-gown.

As I say, I actively enjoyed the datedness, and Simon certainly some brisk jokes and great lines. Especially in the second half, as the hungover party struggle with the after-effects of ouzo (“I can’t make a fist… my teeth feel soft”). The denouement of the older couple’s cautious move towards acquaintance is beautifully done, Fielding and Simmons both perfect in pitch (mind you, he has the harder task, funny-foreigner acting just isn’t easy to pull off these days). Between the young, as Corrie’s dream of perfect romance fades, there is possibly the best hysterically irrational lovers’ tiff since Private Lives. And it’s all in a lovely, atmospheric New York loft set by Michael Holt with a perfect skylight and snowfall outside.

As I say, it’s a squib, a frivolity, a period piece.  An escape.  Which frankly, on Boris-Meltdown Day was no bad thing. Thank you all.

box office   millatsonning.com   to 27 August

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Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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Libby Purves on RssLibby Purves on Twitter
Libby Purves
Libby Purves was theatre critic for The Times from 2010 to 2013. Determined to continue her theatre commentary after losing that job, she set up her own site www.theatrecat.com in October 2013. She personally reviews all major London openings, usually with on-the-night publication, and also gives voice to a new generation of critics with occasional guest 'theatrekittens'. In addition to her theatre writing and myriad other credits, Libby has been a presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Midweek for over 30 years. She is also the author of a dozen novels, and numerous non-fiction titles. In 1999, Libby was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.

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