Northampton’s Masque Theatre presented their version of Neil Simon’s classic comedy in The Retro Room at Vintage Retreat.
Corrie and Paul are a young newly-wed couple, head over heels in love with one another, having spent their first 6 married nights together in the Plaza Hotel. He’s a young attorney, she’s a free spirit – you get the sense early on that this might be a passionate relationship in more ways than one. We meet them as Corrie (Ruth Simone Sherry) inspects their new home – excited by the prospect of having her own phone number but worried that Paul (Aaron McKenzie) wont be able to appreciate their tiny apartment on the top floor (5 flights, if you don’t count the stoop) until their furniture arrives.
Sherry is delightful as the impulsive Corrie – charming and little childlike at times, her accent never waivers, and her physical expressions and movement really bring the tiny stage to life. McKenzie is every bit the romantic lead, sweeping Corrie up in his arms and being the doting new husband before flitting back to his “stuffed shirt” work mode. Without too many spoilers, his “drunken” escapades gave McKenzie the chance to really get the audience laughing. The pair have a great chemistry together, creating a truly believable couple both in their relaxed physicality with one another and in their heated arguments.
There’s a fair amount of exposition to cram into the first half which is helped along by cheeky phone installation technician Harry Pepper (Ben Clark, making his debut for Masque), but the show doesn’t really get going until the arrival of Corrie’s mother, Mrs Banks (April Pardoe), who steals every scene she’s in with an impeccable combination of dramatic pessimism and comic timing. I’ve had the pleasure to see Pardoe in numerous shows (and work with her on a few) and this is the best I’ve seen her – the role could have been written for her, and she is an absolute joy to watch.
Completing the lineup of quirky characters is Steve While as Victor Velascoe, the upstairs neighbours who gains access to his rooms via the ledge outside Cory and Paul’s bedroom window. While has pitched Velascoe just right – a non-threatening oddball whose heart is in the right place – and plays him with a warm knowing wink and happy expression throughout.
The stage in The Retro Room is an interesting set up – a long shallow stage with curtained “wings” off to each side. This is a new venue for Masque, which will inevitably lead to a few tech issues – the PA system crackled, the music volume was probably a bit high for the small space, and there seemed to be issues with the lights flashing – but that’s just me being very picky! The set itself was designed cleverly, going from a barren apartment to one filled with furniture in the space of one neatly choreographed scene change. Director Emma Robson has her cast use every inch of the space to great effect, dodging around furniture and clambering over the bed in the claustrophobic apartment.
Barefoot is all about opening yourself up to new experiences, and the realisation that perhaps the way you’ve always done things isn’t the only way to do it – Corrie and Paul bicker over their differences, but it becomes all too apparent that they have more in common when they don’t have the time to overthink it all. Mrs Banks and Mr Velascoe share an experience which opens them both up to new worlds and changes their outlooks forever. Corrie asks for her mother’s help after a fight with Paul. “It’s really very simple.” Mrs Banks says, “All you have to do is give up a little bit of you for him.” a piece of advice that goes for both every partnership in this play.
It’s great to see Masque doing something a little different and in a new space – Barefoot was a truly enjoyable evening, performed by a fantastic cast, and is a production Masque should be extremely proud of.
Performance: Fri 15 Feb 2019, Vintage Retreat, Northampton