When Neil Simon’s first major hit, Barefoot in the Park, appeared on Broadway in 1963, its youthful, urbane wit and freshness was indicative of a new generation’s approach to life in a decade when male and female relationships would take significant steps towards equality.
Now, more than half a century on, there’s a blend of antiquity – and undeniable contemporary realism, because certain things haven’t changed all that much – to the dynamic between Corie (Jessica Hardwick) and Paul (Olivier Huband), both young newlyweds in New York.
She’s free-spirited, yet also the homemaker who found their tiny studio flat (a gorgeous mid-century modern creation with vaulting loft windows by designer Adrian Rees) and hopes for Paul’s approval for it; he’s a suave but staidly conservative alpha male who works hard in his high-powered legal job, but who is unable to let his hair down or give Corie credit.
Hardwick and Huband make a convincing couple, subtle in their domestic bliss and comfort, fiery and physical in their trivial but tempestuous arguments. Alongside them, Clare Grogan is perfectly elegant as Corie’s reserved mother Ethel, and Hamish Clark plays eccentric neighbour Victor Velasco with wily precision as an apparent Scots-Albanian with unusual cooking skills.
This revival captures the sweetness, smartness and humanity of Simon’s romantic comedy. Yet it’s in the energy and emotional truth that director Elizabeth Newman draws from her cast that it really flies, and we leave feeling as though we’ve opened a window upon other lives in other times.
Music director Ben Occhipinti’s scene-change period song-and-dance sequences to The Locomotion and I Say a Little Prayer, led by singer Karis Jack, are also a lot of fun.