Saturday 24 August 2019

Challenging gender norms makes for laughs in vintage play

The Odd Couple (female version)

The Everyman, Cork  Until Aug 17

The Odd Couple: Nichola MacEvilly (Florence) and Gillian MacCarthy (Olive). Photo by Bríd O’Donovan
The Odd Couple: Nichola MacEvilly (Florence) and Gillian MacCarthy (Olive). Photo by Bríd O’Donovan

We live in an age when gender norms are being challenged, where the traditionally accepted differences between men and women are getting a major societal rewrite. How much do you need to change a character to make them credible as the opposite sex? Is opposite sex even a thing any more?

An early theatrical experiment in this arena is Neil Simon's The Odd Couple. First produced in 1965, then made into a hugely successful film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and followed by a hit TV show.

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Simon expanded the idea in 1985 to create a female version. The script is not much changed, poker playing with the guys becomes Trivial Pursuit with the gals, but the essential contrasts between the characters, and many gags and plot points remain. The female version was not the tearaway success of the male version, but remains a fascinating experiment.

Recently single Olive (Oscar in the original) hosts her girlfriends for Trivial Pursuit sessions. One of the girls, Florence (Felix in the original), doesn't show up, and the rest fear she is suicidal following her divorce. Olive, who can't stand being by herself, invites Florence to move in with her. Florence is traditionally feminine, compulsively tidy and a classic homemaker. Olive is a macho slob, with a touch of the butch. Their living together quickly develops the stifling characteristics of a failing marriage, as Florence starts whining about Olive being late back from work.

Maree Kearns' costumes do a neat line in ladies' frocks, for the women who are not wearing trousers. Kearns' split-level set charms as an exercise in sturdy realism: a typical New York apartment, all damask wallpaper and mahogany architraves. Nichola ­MacEvilly gives an outstanding performance as the neurotic Florence. Ray Scannell and Kevin Creedon do a very funny turn as the Spanish brothers from an apartment upstairs who appear in Act 2.

Simon's script trades in comic stereotypes, but also disrupts them. He locates the male-female spectrum within these same-sex pairings. In the original, Felix is seen as at the feminine end of masculinity; in this version, Olive is portrayed as being at the macho end of the feminine. Conor Hanratty directs with a light touch, prioritising the play's comic rhythms, though subtly hitting on its gender provocations. This vintage play is a solid vehicle and lands plenty of laughs at one level, but it also provides a fascinating insight into how our clichéd ideas about men and women have emerged over the past six decades.

 

Bracing show with plenty of vision

My Dad's Blind

Peacock Theatre, Dublin Tours nationally in September

Katy Hayes

The Young Curators Festival at the Peacock Theatre has made a clever choice in programming this funny and unsentimental 70-minute show about a blind dad and his tempestuous daughter.

Disability is often handled with kid gloves in the art world. Not here. Anna Sheils-McNamee's debut shows the practical challenges of blindness, but also the interpersonal challenges of family relationships and marriage breakdown. Steve Blount, as the father, is the essence of dadness. Sheils-McNamee herself plays the daughter, a self-absorbed and sometimes nasty teen, who ruthlessly exploits her father's disability for her vlog.

Director Gemma Aked-Priestley displays an arresting confidence in the lengths to which she pushes the performances with fine results; the overall tone has a fragmented energy which captures the sense of shatteredness in this struggling family. Sarah Jane Shiels' lighting design adds plenty of colour to the simple white set, while occasionally blinding the audience with brightness.

The writer has a fearless voice and oblique take on events, eschewing easy options in favour of theatrical punch. This bracing play lets the audience see visual impairment in a new and original way.

 

Katy Hayes

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