Directed by Mark Kilmurry
78 McDougall Street, Kirribilli
Season: 25 August – 8 October
Neil Simon's play, Barefoot in the Park, is bound up in the beautiful simplicity of the 1960s that makes for such rosy nostalgia. Made into the 1967 film with Jane Fonda and Robert Redford, I’m sure these Hollywood versions of the roles stand firm in many an audience member’s mind. It’s a tough gig, therefore, to bring something different to the table in a stage show, when these days people regularly opt for a movie on the couch instead of venturing out to the theatre. Delightfully, Kilmurry manages to capture all the charisma and grace of the film, whilst an effervescent energy gives audiences a lick of what live performance can do, that onscreen cannot.
Here the story goes: Corie and Paul are very new newlyweds, still in honeymoon bliss. They move into a new apartment that is 5 flights of stairs up (no lift!) and has plenty of hidden quirks and kinks. Corie’s Mother (a single woman) comes to visit and Corie plots to match her with their eccentric and affable neighbour, Mr Velasco. In amongst the hijinks it becomes evident that Corie and Paul are on different wavelengths and cracks in their relationship begin to show.
Mia Lethbridge as Corie is zany and as bright as sunshine, exuding abundant energy and driving the pace. Her vocal work is perfect for a 60s girl and transports you exactly back to the right setting. There is something quite special about her performance that continually draws your eye. Jake Speer plays Paul with appropriate stringency. It’s a difficult balance to maintain when the script asks Paul to be so incorrigibly stiff for a prolonged part of the play, but Speer does so without killing the energy and rather brings a wonderful contrast to the role when he finally runs free, barefoot in the park, so to speak. Georgie Parker is endearing as Mrs Banks, Corie's mother, however doesn't quite seem correctly cast in this frumpy and matronly role (perhaps that’s a compliment!), and there are inconsistencies in her accent work. Daniel Mitchell plays Victor Velasco with oomph and bounces wonderfully off Lethbridge in their spontaneity. Jamie Oxenbould also makes good comedic appearances as the telephone repairman, with enjoyable results.
Alicia Clements’ set design is so charming, feeding into the jokes fettered through the script about the impractical apartment. Everything fits just perfectly to the era, including the groovy costume design by Renata Beslik. My favourite aspect of the design is the glass pane ceiling, framing a shot for brilliantly romantic kiss at the end of the play. Paired with the dramatic lighting design by Scott Allan, this wonderful kiss channels the Breakfast at Tiffany's kiss in the rain - one that makes the audience breathe a sweet sigh of content.
Kilmurry's direction embarks on telling a tale with humour, optimism, and good will - managing to lift the spirits of all the audience. You can't help but enjoy yourself. As much as the world is a drastically different place to what it was in 1963, Neil Simon’s romantic comedy resounds with simplicity that is somewhat elusive in this day and age. And allowing yourself to indulge in some pretty romance is what we all need from time to time.