The Odd Couple – Theatre Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have only really known of The Odd Couple from the 1970’s television series of the same name. It is centred around two men: one a neat freak and the other a slob. Little did I know, this series actually started out on stage in 1965 with a play written by Neil Simon. It also had a theatrical release in 1968. Now, almost 60 years later, the play is returning to the stage with an Australian Premiere Production that opened at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre on May 5th, 2024.

Produced by John Frost for Crossroads Live and directed by Mark Kilmurry, the fresh Australian production stars Shane Jacobson as Oscar and Todd McKenney as Felix.

Oscar is recently divorced and living alone in his twelfth floor New York Apartment and the place is an absolute mess. Hosting his regular Friday Night poker game with friends, Speed (Laurence Coy), Murray (Anthony Taufa), Roy (John Batchelor) and Vinnie (Jamie Oxenbould) feel something is amiss. Their friend Felix has not yet arrived. Unfashionably late, the group begin to speculate as to what happened and after receiving a phone call from Felix’s wife, they discover the pair have split and Felix has gone missing. Fearing that Felix has run off, or hurt himself, the group throw themselves into a panic. Eventually, Felix arrives at the apartment but is in despair, depressed and has nowhere to go. As such, Oscar offers Felix a place to stay.

The pair are complete polar opposites; Felix, is punctual, introverted and a neurotic clean freak whilst Oscar is lazy, unmotivated and messy. Oscar is happy to just lounge around, drop clothing wherever he wants, smoke and drink to his hearts content. But Felix can’t stand it and follows him around, cleaning and picking up after him. Whilst the clean apartment and freshly cooked meals are a nice touch, Oscar starts to grow tiresome of the constant state of cleanliness, eventuating in a scenario that might just ruin their long-standing friendship.

After witnessing Todd McKenny and Shane Jacobson on stage together in the recent production of Hairspray, I was impressed with how naturally the pair connected in their characters. So, when I heard about the duo starring opposite each other in The Odd Couple, I was excited to see McKenney and Jacobson together again. Needless to say, they did not disappoint.

Shane Jacobson as Oscar is a performance that I did not expect from such a fun loving and kind person in real life. Jacobson really stepped out of his comfort zone for this one. Oscar is not a very likable character. He is selfish and without empathy. Whilst I could feel his frustration of being nagged all the time about cleaning up and keeping tidy, I also wanted to wring his neck for not really seeing what Felix was going through. You would think as a divorcee himself; one would be a little more in-tune with the feelings of a friend going through the same thing. At times, I really despised the character. This was not due to any fault of Jacobson and if anything, he nailed the character perfectly.

Now for Todd McKenny and what can I say? This man can play anything, do anything and he absolutely smashed it in the role of Felix. Not just with his purposefully whiney voice but his body language and facial expressions. His physical comedy alone is phenomenal. I also really empathised with his character. After so many years of marriage to just have it ripped away, the house, the kids, his whole life turned upside down and all he wanted was a friend to lean on and help him through it, I really adored Felix as a character. McKenny’s dry delivery makes the unfunny actually funny. You can clearly see the unhinged panic in his eyes as Felix when someone forgets a coaster. Together with Shane Jacobson, the pair really are The Odd Couple.

This fabulous production wouldn’t be complete without a great ensemble cast. Laurence Coy, Anthony Taufa, John Batchelor and Jamie Oxenbould are all equally fantastic as the friends and poker buddies of Oscar and Felix. Each buddy had their own unique quirky personalities and were a pleasure to watch each time they graced the stage together.

But it would have to be Lucy Durack and Penny McNamee as neighbourly sisters, Cecily and Gewndolyn Pigeon that really won me over. Their entrance to the stage is perfectly timed and brought some much needed light-hearted comedic relief to an almost wavering narrative. Both of their characters are perky, cheerful and hilarious! Durack and McNamee are the perfect casting choices for the sisters and I found myself laughing the most during their scene than I did for the rest of the play.

This visuals of The Odd Couple are superb. The staging of the apartment is clever with multiple layers bringing depth and detail to what is basically the living room of Oscar’s apartment. There are plenty of magazines and cushions to throw around to create mess and equally as many hiding places within the set to clean up said mess. It also has a very distinct 70s style. The costuming and styling are great and really enhance the 70s vibe from the set around them. Plus, the colourful dresses on the Pigeon sisters perfectly balances and helps to emphasise their warm and vibrant personalities. Kudos to Designer Justin Nardella, Lighting Designer Trudy Dalgleish and Sound Designer Michael Waters.

At the end, The Odd Couple had me feeling indifferent. Oscar is meant to be a bit of a grouch and Felix is meant to get on his nerves to the point of boiling over. I didn’t like the turn that Oscar’s character took and it had me siding with Felix. Maybe that is just because of my own empathetic nature. I wanted to help Felix, not fight with him. Perhaps others will feel differently about the play and side with Oscar’s carefree and somewhat frustrated persona. And the more I think about it, the more I realise the feeling of indifference is intentional.

One thing is for sure, Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenny absolutely killed it on stage, have brilliant natural chemistry, and I really hope to see the pair work together more in future.

The Odd Couple’s Australian Premiere production is now playing at Melbourne’s Comedy Theatre and will run a limited season to Sunday the 23rd of June before heading to Theatre Royal in Sydney on the 27th of June through to the 28th of July, 2024.

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Photography by Grant Alexander.

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