The Sunshine Boys

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The Sunshine Boys
© Johan Persson
Danny DeVito (Willie Clark) and Richard Griffiths (Al Lewis)

The comics have aged better than the comedy in Neil Simon's 1972 odd-couple drama, now unwisely revived as a vehicle for Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito. Indeed, the first hour of this two-and-a-half-hour comedy is so slow and unfunny that I had to pinch myself to stay awake.

It's not the actors' fault. Griffiths and DeVito play estranged old vaudeville duo Lewis (Griffiths) and Clark (DeVito), reluctantly reunited for one last performance. Their material, onstage and off, is as threadbare as Clark's ancient pyjamas. But their genuine star quality scatters fitful rays of sunshine over this misguided enterprise. Though even Griffiths and Devito can't do much with the boys' 'legendary' doctor routine, a feeble and sexist skit with a buxom nurse that has no business onstage these days, and certainly not in a spoof as toothless as this one.

Simon's plot is as skimpy as nursie's costume: the entire and only point of the lengthy first scene is for Clarke's long-suffering nephew Ben to persuade his grumpy retired uncle to meet his ex-partner – already a foregone conclusion. Each scene is a double act, with DeVito's Clark sparring first with Ben (a weakly upbeat Adam Levy), then Lewis (they try to rehearse their sketch but can't get beyond the first three lines) and finally with a genuine registered nurse who is caring for him in his grungey flat – a stand-out cameo by the wonderful Johnnie Fiori, the only actor who's really a match for DeVito here.

This is a massive missed opportunity. Once you're over the hump of the first hour (and it's a mountain, not a molehill), DeVito gives a central performance of unflagging commitment and gymnastic agility, hurling his 67-year-old body around the furniture like Yoda doing a manic yoga routine. He's insufferable, childish, manic, grouchy, manipulative and vulnerable. But he earns his violins. The final scene, in which he faces moving to a retirement home for old actors in New Jersey with dignity, is genuinely poignant. It's also the only part of Thea Sharrock's sluggish production that I found funny – precisely because it digs deeper than the curmudgeonly clichés and repetitive bickering that precede it.

Physically, you'd think that Griffiths and DeVito would be a shoe-in as a transatlantic 'Little and Large'. But Griffiths, who has the mind of a don and the physique of a well-used double mattress, just can't meet DeVito in energy or vaudevillian physicality. As ever, Griffiths brings tremendous wit and pathos to the stage – but he's a mournful, sotto presence here, with little in the script to engage his emotional intelligence.

DeVito fans will find that their pocket-sized icon gives them more than enough bang for their buck. If you're sure that daft wisecracks and tepid laughter can waft you to comic nirvana, come and ovate with them. If not, save yourself an uncomfortable nap.


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Average User Rating

3.4 / 5

Rating Breakdown

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This is the only honest review I've read about this show. I had to run away at the intermission, it was so bad. And I'm convinced that if it weren't for famous actors performing, then all the audience would have run away with me. Out-dated slap-stick script, poor over-acting, and predictable timing. Awful. A chair being moved from 90 degrees angle to a 45 degree angle got roars of laughter from the crowd - if it weren't for Danny DeVito moving the chair, I expect the theatre would be silent and bored. As I was. View at your own peril

A fantastic performance that had us laughing out loud.Danny DeVito is superb.

We were hoping for great things but sadly this comedy seemed dull, lack-lustre and showing its age. No chemistry between the protagonists, fluffed lines and stilted delivery meant that we were tempted to depart at the interval. The second half started more promisingly but couldn't maintain our interest. We felt no empathy with or concern for the comedy duo and by the end we couldn't wait for them to be wheeled off to their retirement home. Amongst the audience we seemed almost alone with this view however, as many stood to applaud at the end of the show.

Danny DeVito was superb, really funny. This was the first review night so there were the odd mistakes in dialogue but very few and quickly recovered. Chemistry between DeVito and Griffiths definitely improved in the second half as I'd expect. No doubt within a week or two this will be a highly polished, funny and well presented show. Go and see it!

We, left at the intermission as the pace of the humour was much slower than expected leading to exaggerated pauses laboured delivery. Lines were definitely fluffed and the chemistry seemed to be lacking between DeVito and Griffiths. A reluctantly low rating for a play I'd been very keen to see with two ,usually, great actors.

Danny DeVitto was perfect for the role, elegantly supported by Richard Griffiths. Treat yourself to a top night out!