Before you cry 'not another screen to stage adaptation', remember this: The Odd Couple was a Broadway play before Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau played the bickering flatmates on screen. Neil Simon's witty and sharp look at how a friendship is severely tested by cohabitation works better on stage anyhow.
Peter Polycarpou plays Oscar Madison - a fun-loving, hard-living New Yorker who leaves newspapers on the floor where they fall and feels at ease in a pig sty. He has a heart of gold, though, and would never see a friend out on the street. Not even fussy Felix Unger (Ben Keaton), who's has been thrown out of his house by his wife. Verging on hysterics, Felix appears on Oscar's doorstep forlorn, lost and heart broken. But how will these two chalk and cheese characters get on living under one roof?
The main thrill of this new production of Simon's comedy classic is that it both retains the slick style of the original and introduces some bright new touches, thus never appearing workmanlike. This is not Roger Haines first time at directing a Simon play and it shows. Haines brings an air of confidence to the job but also demonstrates a real urge to give audiences far more than a movie re-tread.
His cast also rise to the challenge. Polycarpou makes the role of Oscar his own. Wielding a forever-pluming cigar and a pitch-perfect American accent, he provokes gales of laugher through his facial expressions alone, while also tackling the evergreen dialogue with obvious relish. As his strait-laced but clumsy counterfoil, Ben Keaton revels in the sheer physical comedy that is Felix. He also manages to bring some sympathy to the character rather than stalling him in caricature mode.
The supporting cast are all excellent, too, with Kenneth Jay shining a bit brighter than the others as hen-pecked, card-playing buddy Murray. The straightforward apartment setting belies the inventiveness that designer Judith Croft brings to the set. From the Manhattan skyline as seen through blinds to the old-fashioned bar in the middle of the living room, her lived-in attention to detail is impressive.
Unlike so many stage productions with famous film incarnations, here, you soon stop drawing comparisons. In the Library's safe hands, The Odd Couple is a play - and a production - which very much retains a life of its own.
- Glenn Meads