THE ODD COUPLE" - A comedy by Neil Simon
The first thing to say, VERY LOUDLY, is WHAT a difference a good play makes.
Little Waltham Drama Group's choice of "The Odd Couple" in the version written for a predominantly female cast, was positively inspired. Although the play actually dates from 1965, and has been re-cycled in various forms over many years, it still stands up as ajolly good evening's entertainment, crackling with wit, humour and human insight, - and what is more the text provides a steady stream of good lines for everyone of the cast.
I did harbour some initial doubts about how six women would deal with the American accents, and Simon's very distinctive New York/Jewish brand of fast wise-cracking one-liners, but the moment they opened their mouths I knew they were up to the pace.
This was a very enjoyable evening, one of the best I have enjoyed this season,_and my_impressions were confirmed by a happy buzz throughout the full-house audience.

There was however sadness in the air for members and regular supporters hearing news, only just received, that the Group's long term (and indeed a founder) member Edwin Leach had died a few days earlier after a sudden heart-attack in Australia. As special effects man, general helper-outer and lately secretary to the Group, he will be an enormous loss to everyone involved with Little Waltham's productions.

Little Waltham Memorial Hall is probably the smallest venue in the Guild but the welcome in the capable hands of Eileen Metson and her team is always warm and genuine, and despite the lack of space other Group members somehow also managed to provide wine and other drinks in addition to the usual teas and coffees, and biscuits. Well done indeed. Even my bizarre request for a little cold water in my coffee was remembered and provided!
Set building was in the hands of Glyn Jones. Tony White and Billie Bond who were required to come up with a basic room-set with two very contrasting scene changes.
Act One calls for an over-crowded and none-too,clean living-room, cluttered with discarded papers and magazines, tom poster__ broken blinds, empty cups and other detritus.
In the second (and without benefit of curtain to hide the activity) the Stage Management team of Tony White. Jenni Money and Billie Bond transformed the same space into a pristine living room, dressed with curtains with matching tie-backs, lace table-cloths, drinks coasters, flowers and all the stifling niceties of impeccable suburban living.
Somebody here has a very good eye for detail, and there was a lot of it to remember. The props were managed by Jackie Pitwood, Jenny Broadway and Nicola Ayres and so far as I could see it all went without a hitch, as did the LIGHTING AND SOUND in the capable hands of David Newman and Mike Lee
The Group are enormously lucky to be able to field such a large and competent back-stage team, whose support made this whole production run like clock-work.

June Franzen and Iris Morley did a superb job with the costumes, coming up with at least two complete changes of outfit for all six women. The outfits not only looked gopctfOgether, but reflected very precisely each of their individual charactets, from the stocky, down to earth and slightly butch Policewoman Mickey to the prissy, precise and impeccably coiffed Florence, in her immaculate cream trouser suit. The moment one saw the costume one knew exactly what the wearer would be like - a most impressive 'collection', and one of many small pleasing touches was the way in which the outfits of two ladies exactly complemented the pale bluishgreen upholstery of the settee in Act Two.

This was in the hands of Mags Simmonds, who also directed the Group's two previous Spring productions. Here again it was clear that she had paid enormous attention to detail, in the way she grouped the ladies so naturally but yet always with their faces clearly visible to the audience. The Trivial Pursuit game in the first act carried on with the rapport and camaraderie of long custom seemed the most natural occupation in the world as a background to the main action.
Each lady was very clearly an individual, and each had plenty of good lines making this a really well balanced ensemble. The arrival of the hysterical hypochondriac Florence was greeted by each of them with a varying if typical reaction.
Everything changes after Olive has impulsively offered to share her flat with Florence. Relationships are strained all round, as Florence is clearly irritating everyone. The differing reactions of the six ladies are beautifully handled, from indignation, and plain exasperation, to Florence's air of injured innocence - which of us has not been driven to the brink of murder by someone else's well intentioned fussing.

Karen Wray who played the leading part of Olive is a divorced career girl, who likes her own way of life in the main, and is perfectly happy with her own standards of tidiness (even if her friends are not). She is warm, friendly, self-confident but is still missing her man, and has not given up hope of finding a new relationship. She is by no means ready to sink back with Florence into a cosy 'bachelor girly' existence spent rehearsing their grievances against men. The cracks in their friendship appear as soon as Olive attempts to strike up an acquaintanceship with two Spanish gentlemen in the flat above, in which Florence wiltno longer be the centre of attention.
Florence, played by Vicky Weavers is a monster, a perfectly recognisable monster of the female variety. She is manipulative, scheming, hypochondriac, a clinging vine, demanding sympathy from everyone else for a situation she has brought upon herself.
Vicky gave us a wonderfully precise and irritating performance, as she flitted about self-righteously with a duster and a disinfectant spray in the now pristine flat; she is the sort of women any right-minded flat-mate would wish to strangle on sight. Particularly:_as she knows perfectly well what she is doing.
Playwright Neil Simon's final poignant twist comes when, after refusing to co-operate in any way with Olive's plans to woo the gentlemen from the flat above, Florence calmly batts her eyelashes, plays the sympathy card and walks off with one of the adoring gentlemen. These women always do.
We could weep with Olive for her lost hopes, while we are rocking with laughter at the sheer audacity of Florence's manoeuvres, and marvelling at Simon's insight into the human condition. More especially at his quite terrifyingly accurate insight into the feminine psyche. This is not just a play adapted for a female cast, it is a complete re-write and change of approach, and I found it hard to visualize how the original male orientated text would have come over. Mickey the down-to-earth policewoman, Sylvie, Renee and Vera have been friends since their school-days meeting regularly for their games of Trivial Pursuit (probably the only thing which dates the play slightly - does anyone play TP these days ??) interrupted by gossip, bickering and all the small rivalries of long-standing friendship
They are all very different - Sylvie (Julie Cole) downright and sensible; Vera (Susan Butler) pretty but a complete air-head" I once talked to a security guard at the Museum of Modem Art for twenty minutes until I found out he was a statue" ); and wise-cracking Renee (Sue Walker) Each in her own way is determined to ignore Florence's little drama or her threats of suicide.
They are appalled at Olive's offer of a refuge in her flat, but content to let her go ahead. We warm to them all as old and valued friends, and there was really nothing to choose between them for excellence of performance.
And I really loved the vivacity with which at the end of the play they broke into an apparently impromptu dancing chorus line, choreographed by Susan Butler.
With such an excellent female line-up it was almost inevitable that the two Spanish gentlemen from the flat above would be a bit of a let down. Brian Come and Ken Little. did well enough as the brothers Manolo and Jesus but they struggled a bit with the accent, and the formality of their manners was no doubt Spanish in intention, but gave them little opportunity to establish a rapport with the audience. Nevertheless they sucked in ( I use the word advisedly) everything that Florence told them and promptly offered their protection and the hospitality of their flat which was accepted with triumph and a smug forgiving smile for the out-manoeuvred Olive.

As I have said I felt this play came over so well, with such understanding of the female psyche. that it is hard to imagine how the original male version would have played.
Full marks to Little Waltham for choosing a vehicle in which to showcase an excellent cast and one which kept the audience sympathetic, engaged and entertained from first to last. This was an excellent effort, quite one of the best I have seen this season, and I am lost in admiration of the way they manage to do so well in such a limited arena.