Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Fumbling, tentative journey to enlightenment is sofa, so good

BARNEY Cashman wants to cash in on the newly permissive society of the late Sixties. He’s

BARNEY Cashman wants to cash in on the newly permissive society of the late Sixties. He’s married but wants some extra interest elsewhere.

This is the sort of set-up which is ripe for farce but Neil Simon’s witty and sensitive script never takes us there.

Last of The Red Hot Lovers
doesn’t make us laugh any less — quite possibly we laugh more — but it stirs deep thoughts and emotions along the way.

The Mill at Sonning never brings anything less than its A-game to its shows, but this cast and director are a cut above even that.

Stuart Fox, Laura Doddington and director Robin Herford have a proven chemistry and it shows in

Last of the Red Hot Lovers
. They obviously like each other as professionals and friends and the Mill suits them well.

Fox’s Barney opens the evening with a fumbling, nervous entrance to his mother’s apartment.

He is scared of his mother’s obsessive-compulsive disorder and is anxious to leave no trace of his presence there while she is at work for the day. He inexpertly unfolds a sofa bed, falling over himself in the process, and we know from these opening minutes just what kind of a man we have — tentative, fearful and inexperienced.

The exact opposite of the woman who is just about to knock on the door in anticipation of an afternoon of whisky-fuelled groping.

This first encounter with Doddington’s cynical, sarcastic and very quick Elaine is a delight.

The exchanges are hilarious — she knows exactly what she wants and he has no idea.

As if one fireworks display from Laura Doddington wasn’t enough, we’re treated to a second with her kooky — a favourite word at the time — failed nightclub singer, Bobbi. And a third with her pinched-in depressed housewife, Jeanette.

All three roles are very different and each requires a separate intensity, which Doddington delivers unfailingly.

Meanwhile, Fox has to develop his character from the fumbling ingénue at the beginning to a man who might just be getting to enlightenment at the end.

Of course, he does this while delivering some killer lines and expressions.

The energy from both these actors is remarkable and more than a match for the high quality of Neil Simon’s writing.

Until Saturday, May 7.

Mike Rowbottom

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