sunshine boys
Wednesday, 04 July 2012

Theatre Reviews: 6 July

Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths together – simply made for each other

Written by Sam Taylor


Not since Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau played the dysfunctional pair of old men forced to live together in Neil Simon's film classic The Odd Couple, have audiences had a chance to see such an awesome coupling as Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito in this revival of Simon's 1972 Broadway hit, The Sunshine Boys. DeVito is one of those mesmerising actors who has been bewitching audiences since he first hit our shores as the acerbic Louie De Palma in the TV sitcom, Taxi.

Remarkably, this is the first time he has ever appeared on a West End stage. He says he did it in part because he and his wife, the actress Rhea Perlman (Carla in Cheers) came to the Savoy 30-odd years ago and he had always wanted to come back. It is an intense run of eight shows a week with both stars intending to deliver every performance. 'Why would I come all this way and only do half of them?' he was recently quoted as saying.

The Sunshine Boys is an acutely funny observation of love and loss in friendship. Willie Clark (DeVito) and Al Lewis (Griffiths) were a vaudeville partnership that lasted more than 40 years, starting off as headliners, before slowly fading to the bottom of the bill and eventually disintegrating when Lewis decides to throw in the towel. For Clark, it marked the end of the relationship.

A decade later, an attempt at reconciliation is proposed – a chance to do one more show for a TV special – and the premise of the piece is born. Is it possible to go back? The belief that it can happen is driven by Willie's agent and long-suffering nephew Ben, in a first-class delivery from Adam Levy.

DeVito really is at his very best here but would he have been quite as good if he were not playing opposite, and up to, our own Richard Griffiths? I doubt it. The two are made for each other and Thea Sharrock's stellar direction steers them away from any chance of schmaltz towards a fast-paced comedy that is theatrical gold. In Al Lewis, Griffiths has found a character that he inhabits as memorably as the cult figure Uncle Monty, in Withnail And I.

Hildegard Bechtler's glorious facsimile of Willie's vintage apartment is so good it is almost diverting at times. The night I went the show ended with a standing ovation. It was no surprise. These two grumpy old lions roared all the way through.

Savoy Theatre, Strand, London WC2, until 28 July: 0844-871 7687,

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