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

barefoot family

Carol Deakin as Mrs Banks, Emma Woodcock as her daughter Corrie and Mark Fletcher as Corrie's husband of six days . . . which is not a week . . .  Paul Bratter

Barefoot in the Park

Highbury Theatre Centre


Here is a play that relies almost entirely upon the ability of the cast to bring the skilled storytelling and writing of its creator, the late and great Neil Simon, to life.

Not the easiest of tasks as there no real plot to speak of, not really much of a story to tell, and, if we are honest, not a lot really happens, and yet it is wonderfully funny, and a couple of hours just flies by in a whirl of fun as the four main characters – and a telephone engineer – turn nothing much happening into a comedy delight.

It is 57 years since Simon’s play opened on Broadway, starring Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley, but its basic theme is marriage and relationships, and that is timeless, rows and making ups have been going on since Eve tried a Granny Smith’s ack in Eden.

We open with Corrie Bratter, played delightfully by Emma Woodcock, fresh from her six-day honeymoon – which doesn’t make a week as she will tell us in the second act – although what that means is still being worked out 57 years later.

It is February and she is rushing around, barefoot, full of life and the joys of matrimony in their empty, one, very small, bedroomed apartment, a bijou residence with no bath, a hole in the skylight which provides a built in snowstorm, heating that needs to be turned off to be on, a closet that leaks from the bathroom in the attic apartment above, and five flights up in a Greenwich Village Brownstone – we don’t count the stoop, the flight of steps up to the front door.

It is empty because the furniture has not yet arrived and we also discover the rent is $125 a month, which is overpriced according to husband Paul – the only real sign of the play’s age - he should try living in 2020, that amount these days would hardly buy him a day!

Corrie is a free spirit, likes the impulsive and unconventional, going and doing as her mood takes her. Marriage has breached a dam of desire and she is washing over Paul in a sort of romantic tsunami. She wants a life of adventure and thrills.

Now Paul, in a wonderfully droll performance by Mark Fletcher, is rather more down to earth, practical, steady, staid, conventional , a feet firmly on the ground sort of chap who is, let’s be honest, a bit boring. After all he won’t even walk barefoot in the nearby park complaining that it is 17 deg F – and what sort of excuse is that to give to someone whose feet, bare or not, are rarely anywhere near the ground?

He is a young lawyer building a career which does not quite fit in with Corrie’s romantic demands and flights of fancy.

And speaking of flights, the five up to the appartment is the prop for a running joke as first Sandra Haynes staggers and wheezes in as the engineer sent to fit a telephone and then Rob Phillips gasps his way in as a delivery man, too breathless and faint to utter a single word – an appearance which is a collector’s item in itself.

Even Paul needs oxygen as he gets home from work to an apartment he has never seen – they had only viewed one on the third floor which was larger and two flights less as the occupier of this one was out.

And the first visitor is Corrie’s widowed mother Mrs Deaks, and her assorted ailments and pink pills, given a rather superior air by Carol Deakin, when she has managed to recover from the climb and is breathing again. She provides the sort of mother’s praise for the apartment that might not be quite sincere, at least that is what Corrie thinks, down to earth Paul taking things at face value.

Then there is Victor Velasco, who lives in the apartment above – which is not an apartment, but an attic, and as he is four months behind on rent he is locked out so has to enter his home via Corrie’s bedroom window and a walk along the ledge on the roof.

He is Eccentric with a capital E in a flamboyant performance from Paul Marks dressing as a cross between a 19th century Spanish don and Adam Ant.


Paul Marks' Victor Velasco arrives with his pan of Knichi for Corrie and her mother, a gourmet dish of eel, onion biscuits, salt and secret spices which must be eaten by 'popping' in the mouth within five minutes or it will taste bitter . . .  don't try to make it though, knichi doesn't exist. It was Simon's invenion to add a little more exotic flavour to the play's resident eccentric

He is a gourmet and is at the awkward age of 58, and wishing he was 10 years older as dirty old men can get away with so much more.

He is the perfect match for Mrs Banks, or so Corrie thinks, after all he has all the characters she admires, eccentric, adventurous – he skis and climbs mountains – impulsive, even exotic. Paul, on the other hand, distrusts him, after all he has all the characters Paul so shuns.

The catalyst for the promised row is a foursome and a trip to an Albanian restaurant on Staten Island, where it becomes a bit of an ouzo fest, or perhaps it was Raki, given it was Albanian. Still, no matter, both are much the same, and both will leave you tired and emotional as a newt as we notice as our quartet return home, breathless after the climb and legless after the booze.

Mrs Banks leaves with Victor who says he is about to drive her home, the spirit being willing but another spirit, 40 per cent in this case, making that most unlikely, while Corrie starts a row with Paul over . . . well nothing really, him being a stuffed shirt I suppose.

Whatever it was it lasts half an act, is very funny and probably rings a bell with every married couple who have had a row that started for a reason no one can remember.

This one is enough, whatever it was about, to start divorce proceedings, which is not really where you want romantic comedies to head, so through a combination of telephone engineer, Mrs Banks turning up the next day in Mr Velasco’s dressing gown – all innocent, honest, she tells us – the message comes through loud and clear that you have to compromise, give a little here and there – Paul even walks barefoot in the park but he was very drunk in his defence – otherwise how will you live happily ever after, which, after all is where Mr Simon was leading us all along. Even Mrs Banks, well Ethel now, and Victor seem to be getting along as well.

It is a fine set, again, from Malcolm Robertshaw, which all adds to an excellent production. Not a lot might happen but it happens quite beautifully with wit, charm and lovely writing and acting to provide a thoroughly entertaining evening. To 22-02-20.

Roger Clarke


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