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Barefoot in the Park

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Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre presents a revival of Neil Simon’s award-winning comedy. Starring & directed by Maureen Lipman.

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Maureen Lipman both directs this flawless comedy, and stars in it, in a role she was born for. She plays the mother of newlywed Corrie Bratter (implausibly elfin-featured Faye Castelow) who is doing up a top-floor apartment that's as cooky as she is and whose five flights of stairs are the undoing of all their visitors and whose neighbours all have a certain quirkiness of their own. Corrie's new husband Paul (dashing Dominic Tighe) is a young ambitious attorney, with a more cautious outlook than his wife. It's 1963, so the only way to find out how they'll get on with living together is to marry first.

Corrie, her mother and her new husband form the core of the piece, with wild neighbour Victor Velasco encouraging Corrie's spontaneous side, beyond what her nearest and dearest think is sensible. Oliver Cotton brings out all of Victor's charm and you can see why he'd be so much fun to get into trouble with.

Barefoot In The Park is written by Neil Simon, who also wrote Plaza Suite and The Odd Couple. He's very good at pieces that mesh a small number of characters and play out the relationships. He's also a brilliant comedian. Lipman gets a lot of the best lines, and also gets the best quick change of mood - dropping her customary quips and being serious for a moment. It's only a moment though - the piece is littered with recurring jokes not least about the stairs who are almost an extra character, never seen but much remarked upon, if anyone ever had the breath to do so.

All the action takes place in the beautiful apartment, with just six characters, though afterwards you'd swear you'd seen other locations and met most of the crazy neighbours. I hope all the New Writers of the university see this while it's on, as a brilliant lesson in how to contain your action in time and space while conjuring the impression of having roamed all over New York.

Altogether then, this is a highly professional, slick production, with lots of laughs, a beautiful set, lovely period costumes, seamless performances, well-loved actors and snow. What's not to like? The only problem is that they make it look so easy you don't realise what a great play it is. It's a bit like quaffing too many Kir Royales: it's so like fizzy ribena that it's only afterwards you realise you've been drinking best champagne. But that's a problem for tomorrow. Tonight you can just enjoy it.

Jen Pawsey (DI Reviewer), 24/04/12


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