The Library Theatre has a great reputation when it comes to staging Neil Simon’s work. Associate director Roger Haines worked on the West End hit Laughter On The 23rd Floor and this is his fifth Simon production in Manchester.
Chapter Two is a frothy romantic comedy about second chances. George (Stephen Marzella) is a down at heel writer, missing his late wife and therefore unable to move on. Jennie (Jennifer Lee Jellicorse) is an optimistic actress. She has been bruised by a break up, so throws herself into each acting role with gusto, unable to face real life.
Friends and family conspire to get these two together. Once they meet, the sparks fly; George feels like a new man. Jennie cannot believe her luck at feeling so comfortable immediately. “It feels like we are picking up in the middle somewhere.” This whirl-wind romance signals wedding bells, but like the finest rom-com narratives, complications ensue to keep them apart.
Simon’s sparkling script is sophisticated and soulful, fizzing along at a nice pace. The laughs come thick and fast. Sometimes it lacks the bite that Woody Allen wields but it is so loaded with witty one-liners that it leaves you smiling throughout. Simon always writes a role which would suit a stand up comedian as the lines resemble a routine. George’s brother, Leo (Gregory Gudgeon) is that part. Gudgeon times the jokes perfectly, waiting for the laughter and then firing out another comedy cannonball.
Jennie’s wise-cracking best friend Faye, a staple rom-com character, is played with real charm by Pippa Hinchley. Likewise the two leads bring realism to the relentless humour. Marzella exposes George’s selfish ways, yet makes him engaging. He is ‘stuck’ but very likable even when sad. Jellicorse paints Jennie as a wise and understanding soul who desperately wants this relationship to work. Her plight is genuinely touching due to her restrained and beautiful turn.
Judith Croft’s eye catching set - two NY apartments - is filled to the brim with detail. Paul Gregory’s evocative sound also captures the essence that is New York.
This lovely play feels almost movie-like, but unlike the recent stage version of When Harry Met Sally this is not lazily done. Director Haines injects heart and soul, as proven by the enthusiastic applause and cheers on opening night.