It must be equal parts delight and terror as an actor to step into a role so familiar to the audience. Shaun Micallef and Francis Greenslade have done just that for the Melbourne Theatre Company’s latest production, The Odd Couple.
Micallef plays the uptight neat freak Felix Ungar, while Greenslade plays his slovenly generous-hearted best friend Oscar Madison. Greenslade and Micallef have an easy on-stage chemistry, having worked together on television in Mad as Hell, The Ex-PM, Micallef Tonight and The Micallef Program.
MTC director Peter Houghton has, for most part, drawn out the mannerisms and persona of his two leads, enabling them to define Felix and Oscar with integrity to the material while putting their own stamp on these much-loved characters.
Viewing the play very early in its season, in the first act it seemed the actors were seeking to find the rhythm of the playwright – staccato, fast, acerbic New York. However, the appearance of the Pigeon sisters in the second act breathed a whole new energy into the performance, and no longer were they Shaun and Francis, they had fully inhabited the skin of Felix and Oscar.
The Pigeon sisters, Christie Whelan Browne (Cecily) and Michala Banas (Gwendolyn), are great fun in their fabulously loud ’60s fashion, one minute flirting, the next uncertain and then drawn to the pathetic sad-sack Felix. The poker playing friends were equally good. Hayden Spencer (an MTC regular) was a compelling Murray, the cop. Grant Spiro (Speed), David Ross Paterson (Roy) and Drew Tingwell (Vinnie) complete the loyal gang. Each performer brings their character’s individual emotional idiosyncrasies to life, reinforcing the depth of the ensemble, for which the prolific Neil Simon is renowned.
It is a play filled with physical humour as well as verbal banter, but there is nothing light-weight about the issues. For the playwright, humour is the best vehicle for presenting serious issues, because it is in the laughter that we can begin to inhabit the pain.
Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple
Until 17 December 2016,
Southbank Theatre, The Sumner