The Odd Couple

by | Jul 4, 2024

By Tim Garratt

The late Neil Simon was one of the 20th century’s most celebrated playwrights. Several of his works continue to be staged to wide acclaim in the 21st century, including The Odd Couple, which first played in 1965.

The Odd Couple plays out in a New York City apartment in the 1960s. As it begins, several men (played by John Batchelor, Laurence Coy, Jamie Oxenbould and Anthony Taufa) have gathered for their weekly poker game at the home of their friend, Oscar (Shane Jacobson). Eventually, the final regular player, Felix (Todd McKenney), arrives but he comes with unfortunate news – he’s been kicked out of home by his wife and needs a place to live. Oscar, already a divorced man, invites his forlorn pal to move into his apartment.

Unfortunately, the two men are totally ill-suited to being housemates, as they’re polar opposites; Oscar is laid-back, untidy and unkempt, while Felix is fastidious, overanxious and over-the-top. And, of course, as they begin living together, the stark differences in character cause a series of events, and it’s apparent that this “coupling” may be as unsuccessful as both of their marriages.

The Odd Couple is a wonderfully written piece that may not offer contemporary audiences worthy insights, but it’s still highly entertaining, particularly when it’s delivered in a production of this calibre, under the direction of Ensemble Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mark Kilmurry. He knows precisely how to ensure this classic satisfies Australian theatregoers in 2024 – by entrusting a troupe of seasoned actors with inhabiting Simon’s curious cast of characters.

In Jacobson and McKenney, this production has its truly odd couple. From the opening scene, the pairing seems incongruous; it’s clear that Oscar’s nonchalant and exceedingly casual way of living won’t gel with the highly strung and exceptionally well-organised Felix. Both actors have great comedic timing, and Kilmurry has the two unlikely roommates feeling so in-sync here.

The supporting cast members are just as at home in their respective roles. In particular, Penny McNamee and Lucy Durack are especially delightful as the English sisters Gwendolyn and Cecily Pigeon, who live in Oscar’s apartment building. Their time on stage provides us some of the best laugh-out-loud moments of the evening. That said, there’s not a single weak link in the strong supporting cast of a well-oiled production.

There’s a lot to see on Sydney stages right now, and this new production of The Odd Couple is certainly worthy of your consideration. Kilmurry has presented a wonderful example of why some classics continue to find favour with audiences several decades beyond their initial outings. You won’t leave with any heightened or enlightened comprehension of current world issues, but you will laugh, and you will be reminded of how much talent we have on our stages.

Images Pia Johnson

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