Review: DeVito shines in The Sunshine Boys

By John Nathan, May 18, 2012
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Savoy Theatre, London WC2

In 1972, seven years after The Odd Couple, Neil Simon wrote about another equally odd pairing, two veteran comedians known off-stage as Willie Clark and Al Lewis but on stage as The Sunshine Boys. They were based on two real-life Vaudeville Jewish comics.

Here Danny DeVito plays Willie. And it is no surprise that in his West End debut the diminutive, New Jersey-born film star convinces as a quintessential New Yorker. But having the great — in size and reputation — Richard Griffiths play the other half of the estranged duo, who re-form for one last sketch, must count as one of the weirder casting decisions of recent times.

Not that Griffiths is any less watchable than usual. But peeking out from behind his imperfect New York accent is something conspicuously cultured — elegance, finesse, subtlety — which would grace almost any role other than a veteran Vaudevillian. Something coarser, harder, New Yorkier is needed. And both he and DeVito are outshone by Simon’s script.

The author hates being known as a writer of great one-liners. It gets in the way of being known as a great playwright. But it is those lines that keep Thea Sharrock’s solid if slow production from stalling. Perhaps, like Griffiths, she suffers for not being of the wise-cracking milieu in which Simon’s writing is steeped. What’s missing is the smack of authenticity. (www.savoytheatre.org)

Last updated: 2:13pm, May 31 2012