The Odd Couple at Theatre Royal is a refurbished classic

The Odd Couple at Theatre Royal is a refurbished classic
Image: Todd McKenney and Shane Jacobson in THE ODD COUPLE. Credit: Pia Johnson

Prolific American playwright and screenwriter, Neil Simon, created his own genre, writing about everyday people in New York apartments. The Odd Couple, which premiered in 1965, was his third play and it proved the success of Simon’s winning formula. 

The Odd Couple was adapted for the big screen in 1968 with Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon playing the lead roles of Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar respectively.  It was a box office hit. Then in 1970, the property was transferred to the small screen for a hugely popular TV series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall as Oscar and Felix. 

Jamie Oxenbould, John Batchelor, Laurence Coy, Todd McKenney, Shane Jacobson, Anthony Taufa in THE ODD COUPLE. Credit: Pia Johnson

Bringing what is a quintessential New York story of the 1960s to an Australian stage in the 2020s is a tall order, but enlisting the talents of Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney goes a long way to making it work. 

Recently divorced sports writer, Oscar Madison (Jacobson), lives alone in a sprawling eight-room apartment. He is a self-confessed slob with unsavoury habits, though he’s not a bad guy at heart. 

Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney in THE ODD COUPLE. Credit: Pia Johnson

Every Friday, Oscar hosts a poker night with his buddies: Murray (Anthony Taufa), a spirited, pragmatic police officer; mousy, squeaky-voiced Vinnie (Jamie Oxenbould); Roy (John Batchelor), an finicky accountant; and Speed (Laurence Coy), gruff, impatient, cigar-smoking. 

The play opens on one of these poker nights which is usually also attended by Felix Ungar (McKenney), but he is uncharacteristically absent. It eventually transpires that Felix has just been thrown out by his wife of 12 years, Frances. He arrives at Oscar’s apartment, shattered and suicidal (although rather melodramatically so). 

Lucy Durack and Penny McNamee in THE ODD COUPLE. Credit: Pia Johnson

Oscar invites Felix to move in with him, partly because he wants to help his buddy, partly because Oscar himself is tired of living alone. However, their diametrically opposed personalities brings this arrangement to a head very quickly. 

Justin Nardella’s set is very detailed and functional, instantly evoking the era and milieu of Simon’s play. Each of the poker-playing friends is well cast, with Oxenbould’s Vinnie evincing laughter every time he opens his mouth. 

Jacobson is likeable as the slovenly, yobbo-ish Oscar. McKenney is perhaps a little intense as Felix. Ironically, he doesn’t quite deliver the balance of camp and neurosis that Tony Randall and Jack Lemmon had in the role. But the two do work well together on stage. 

The cast of THE ODD COUPLE. Credit: Pia Johnson

Bringing refreshing colour and female energy to the stage in the second act are the delightful Lucy Durack and Penny McNamee as the ditzy, giggly British sisters, Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon. Their polished, tandem comic performance is spot on and allows for some hilarious moments with McKenney and Jacobson. 

Mark Kilmurry directs the play with deference to Simon’s original vision while also acknowledging nudge-wink moments where meanings have changed over time. 

The Odd Couple is a classic, and though it shows signs of age here and there, it can still draw roars of laughter from the crowd. 

Until July 28

Theatre Royal, 108 King St, Sydney

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