With Bill Bailey as the scruffy sports writer, Oscar Madison, and Alan Davies in the role of the anal-retentive TV newswriter, Felix Unger, the friendship between the two buddies, cast off by their wives, is stretched to breaking point. But not beyond. Not quite slobby enough, Bailey is at his best when his nerves become frayed, his patience snaps at being cooped up with a domestic goddess and he's driven to "dirtying up". Davies, a sweetly pouting, doe-eyed Felix relies too much on his "clenched hair" and limp puppet body-language to convey his prissy neuroses.
But when the two engage, driving the other nuts with the same peccadilloes that maddened their wives, there is more of a frisson. And in the scene where they entertain the giggling girls from next door - coyly played by Katherine Jakeways and Lizzie Roper - the temperature heats up considerably. The boys' poker-playing chums are a mixed bag, the best of the bunch being Dave Johns - a suitably ploddish New York cop - and Ian Coppinger, an earnest Vinnie.
There's not enough sense of claustrophobic fug in the NY apartment and too little element of edginess when Felix is prowling around on his first entry. The pace will probably improve as the show runs in and the Assembly Hall (much improved, in that comfortable seating replaces the Presbyterian pews) will doubtless be packed out for every performance. But the layout of the set, designed by Katy Tuxford, does mean that not everyone can appreciate all the jokes or follow the facial expressions at which Davies excels to convey his neuroses. And the accents aren't as sharp as they could be.
Run without an interval, the scene changes aren't dramatic enough in contrast. Oscar's home is meant to be a real tip, instead of which it looks scarcely below average, in my experience of most men's domestic management. Some of the dialogue in Simon's sophisticated, character-driven comedy sounds a bit dated, but though director Guy Masterton could have used Simon's updated version, featuring e-mail, mobile phones and more contemporary references, he's stuck to the original Broadway version, later made famous by the film starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. The one-liners are still terrific, as is Oscar's incandescent reaction to being left annoying little notes signed FU.
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