Stars explained: * A production of no real merit with failings in all areas. ** A production showing evidence of not enough time or effort, or even talent, and which never breathes any real life into the piece – or a show lumbered with a terrible script. *** A good enjoyable show which might have some small flaws but has largely achieved what it set out to do.**** An excellent show which shows a great deal of work and stage craft with no noticeable or major flaws.***** A four star show which has found that extra bit of magic which lifts theatre to another plane.
Half stars fall between the ratings

libby and steffy

Tilly Broome as Libby and Elena Serafinas as Steffy. Pictures: Alastair Barnsley

I ought to be in pictures

The Highbury Players

Highbury Theatre Centre


SO, you are a struggling Hollywood writer whose best words, and three wives, are behind you and, with a severe case of writer’s block, you are finding new plots hard to come by.

Not to worry though; you have a long term, steady . . . casual relationship - Tuesday night is nookie night! – and live a comfortable, uncomplicated and undemanding life, a paragon of the mundane.

That is until the daughter you have not seen in the 16 years since you walked out on your family in New York, appears on your doorstep expecting you to launch her on her fledgling acting career.

But as she has an acting CV that makes wafers look obese and a father whose Hollywood connections rode off into the sunset years ago and show no signs of a sequel, that is heading into water into wine territory.

That is the premise of Neil Simon’s bittersweet 1979 comedy, a father daughter reunion which provides the catalyst to examine relationships in this complicated love triangle.

Rob Phillips is Herb Tucker, man about the less expensive parts of town, famous scriptwriter, or at least was once famous, now living on past glories and turn downs. Highbury stalwart Phillips gives us a man who puts up walls, a man who has been dating Steffy in a relationship that, despite being two years old, is still little more than a once a week one night stand.

Here is a man who fears merely saying the word commitment could cause him to be struck by lightning while typing it would see his typewriter enveloped in flames. He is happy with his ambling life, with its routine of sex once a week, no pressure, no responsibilities – a man institutionalised in his comfort zone.

The arrival of daughter Libby, 19, lippy, and abrasive, shatters his cosy existence. A desire to be an actress is only part of heherb and libbyr journey, she is looking for answers, which leaves poor old Herb struggling to come to terms with his own life as he searches for reasons.

Tilly Broome is a delight as Libby, 19, independent and yet still a little vulnerable, hiding her own thoughts and feelings behind conversations with her six year’s dead grandmother – a relationship which in life, and now in death, became the most important in her life.

Abandoned by Herb when she was just three, why is she here and what does she want? Does she even know?

Then there is Elena Serafinas as Steffy Blondell, mother of two, full time make-up artist at Columbia Pictures and part-time lover of Herb. After two years of a once a week horizontal relationship she is looking for more. She doesn’t want marriage just something more, more meaningful, more – that word again – committed.

Rob Phillips as Herb confronted by daughter Libby with Steffy behind.

Herb loves both of them in his own way, starting to look out for a daughter he hardly knows, and not wanting to lose Steffy but reluctant to show any hint of, dare we say it, commitment to either. The cosy, easy life he has drifted into protects him from the outside world of responsibilities and real relationships, and Libby’s arrival has put it under threat.

Simon slowly strips away the layers, exposing the people underneath with gentle humour as honesty and truth drift uncomfortably into Herb’s life of safe routine as everyone starts to look at who they are and how they arrived there.

With the characters deconstructed, with that same gentle humour Simon then puts them back together again for a heart-warming finale.

It is a lovely play about relationships, about children, about love and about people, one which will make you smile, laugh out loud at times, and leave into the winter night with a satisfyingly warm happy feeling.

The American accents are acceptable and, just as important, are consistent which means they are hardly noticed after a few moments while Malcolm Robertshaw has created a good set aided by Andrew Noakes effective lighting with Tony Reynold’s sound helping set the 1970’s scene.

Director Alison Cahill has added some nice touches and generates a gentle, steady pace which keeps everything moving along nicely. Well written, well acted and well worth seeing. To 04-02-17

Roger Clarke


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