Barefoot in the Park, Richmond Theatre, May 2012

This Neil Simon comedy was co-directed by Maureen Lipman who also played the part of the mother, Mrs Banks. As in all comedies, timing is of the essence, and Lipman was superb, as was Oliver Cotton as Victor Velasco, the engagingly impecunious Hungarian neighbour of her newlywed daughter Corrie.

The newlyweds at home

Corrie schemes to get her mother out to dinner with Velasco, along with herself and her husband, and the resulting four inebriated people somehow manage to make it through to a new day. Dominic Tighe was wonderfully natural as the young lawyer husband who eventually walks barefoot in the park, causing Faye Castelow as his wife to feel sudden sympathy for him and vow to make the marriage work. But it’s her mother who sets her up to be reasonable, and the comic character of Mrs Banks has a serious purpose to play.

Excellent designs by Tim Goodchild, appropriately nineteen sixties, were well lit by Nick Richings, and the brief but beautifully appropriate musical interludes during scene changes were the work of Matthew Bugg. This was Neil Simon’s first big Broadway hit, and the theme of two newlyweds coming to grief as they set up in their own flat after a week’s honeymoon is timeless.

Oliver Cotton and Maureen Lipman

The drunken scene, with Maureen Lipman sliding her heels uselessly on the carpet as she tries to stand up, was beautifully done. After sleeping it off she recovers her effervescent charm and can finally give her daughter a bit of very sound advice, “Give up a little of yourself for him . . . Take care of him. Make him feel important. Then you’ll have a wonderful marriage, like two out of every ten couples”. Well said, well played and well directed.

Performances at Richmond continue until May 5 — for details click here — and on May 7 it moves to the Arts Theatre, Cambridge.

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