Don’t let the name fool you, Barefoot in the Park is not a promenade performance around Kew Gardens. Instead it is the Tony-award winning screwball comedy by Neil Simon. Written in 1963 – and performed ever since – this play is nearing the big 50, but isn’t slowing down. It’s infused with a retro charm that makes you feel like you are watching a rerun of I Dream of Jeannie or Bewitched, both of which started soon after Barefoot opened and were doubtlessly influenced by Simon’s writing.
The action centres on a young newlywed couple who have just come back from their honeymoon. They arrive at their new apartment with the clothes on their backs and the sort of smile you can only get from spending six days at the Plaza hotel – and that will have to last them because nothing else has been delivered.
It’s a simple world where Corrie – the blushing bride – is only concerned about making the apartment look gorgeous and what to do when her mother comes to visit. Her husband is far more sensible and working hard to make it as a lawyer. Sprinkle in an eccentric Hungarian neighbour, a lot of liquor and a little snow and you can begin to see where this is going.
The gags don’t feel tired, they almost all hit their mark, but they feel familiar. It certainly felt as if the audience had seen this all before: once when they empathised with the young couple in love and now as they find themselves agreeing more with the mother – a woman whose career aspirations stretch to becoming a professional grandmother. It was like the audience were laughing at themselves and how naive they once were.
Barefoot did the comedy better than the drama. You never felt the stakes were very high when you couldn’t stop giggling. The hysteria of the third act had a lot more to do with ouzo – a foul drink that should never be imbibed – than anything else. But it set up a zinger of an ending when things got even more farcical.
In 30 year’s time I would like to watch this show again to see how I felt about it. The audience at the Richmond Theatre were almost all at least that much older than me, making me feel a little like I’d gotten the invite all wrong and arrived at the wrong time. But I still felt very welcome as we all looked on into the small New York apartment of this odd couple.
Barefoot in the Park is playing at the Richmond Theatre until 5 May. For more information and tickets, see the Richmond Theatre website.