Neil Simon’s classic comedy The Odd Couple premiered in 1965 and ran for over two years. In 1968, it was made into a popular film starring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, followed by a long-running television series starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. There have been various other versions since including a 1985 adaptation in which Simon reworked the script for a female cast. Fifty years on, the original play still has plenty of life, with enough humour and heart to appeal to an audience today.

Steve Rodgers and Brian Meegan. Photograph © Prudence Upton

As the title suggests, the play famously revolves around two friends whose wildly mismatched domestic habits lead to ructions when they share the same roof.

Oscar, who is recently divorced, regularly holds a poker game at his home. On this particular evening, Felix doesn’t turn up. It transpires that his wife has just thrown him out and he is distraught, with nowhere to go. Oscar generously offers to let Felix move into his house while he gets himself sorted – and an odd couple they turn out to be, with their respective marriage failures the only thing they really have in common despite their long-standing friendship.

Oscar, who is a sports writer, is laidback and pretty slovenly. His house is a tip, with ashtrays overflowing and dirty takeaway dishes all over the place, while the “green” sandwiches he offers his poker friends might be “very new cheese or very old meat”.

Steve Rodgers, Laurence Coy, Robert Jago, Nicholas Papademetriou and Brian Meegan. Photograph © Prudence Upton

Felix, who is a news writer, is neurotic, finicky, a hypochondriac, emotionally manipulative, and obsessed with neatness. Where Oscar is laidback and reasonably contented, Felix is perennially uptight – “the only man in the world with clenched hair” as Oscar puts it. Ironically, their relationship quickly begins to resemble another strained marriage.

Retaining the 1960s setting, Mark Kilmurry directs a lively, well-cast production for the Ensemble Theatre on an attractive set by Hugh O’Connor, who has also designed the costumes. Steve Rodgers is a wonderfully endearing Oscar – less dour than Walter Matthau, with more of a cheery attitude. Oscar may be a slob who owes his wife money, but Rodgers makes him eminently likeable, giving him a relaxed, huggable appeal, even when he’s jumping on furniture like a grumpy child in his frustration with Felix.

Steve Rodgers and Brian Meegan. Photograph © Prudence Upton

Brian Meegan is a good match, going for broke with all the shtick around Felix’s hypochondria. He really finds his form once Felix is settled into the house, where he has an air freshener and hoover at the ready, and his disapproving glares at the unreliable, messy Oscar are priceless.

It’s hard to believe that either of them are professional writers, or that they would have become friends in the first place, but that’s more to do with the writing than the characterisation.

The poker players are each given a distinctive performance, with Laurence Coy as the acerbic Speed, James Lugton as the worldly policeman Murray, Robert Jago as Oscar’s dry-witted accountant Roy, and Nicholas Papademetriou, as the nerdy, nervy Vinnie who is constantly picked on for wanting to leave early.

Katie Fitchett and Olivia Pigeot. Photograph © Prudence Upton

Gwendolyn and Cecily, the two giggly English sisters who live upstairs, are one-dimensional characters but Katie Fitchett and Olivia Pigeot give them beaming smiles and infectiously winning laughs.

It’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s a well-staged, entertaining production of a warm, affectionate, funny play that still has things to say about male friendship.


The Odd Couple plays at the Ensemble Theatre, Sydney until December 30

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