Left – Peter Rowsthorn. Photo – Gary Marsh Photography.
I was astonished to read in the excellent programme notes, that Neil Simon penned this show in 1993. But it’s not so surprising when you realise this was the distillation of memories of his own “baptism of fire” as the youngest writer in a team of creatives scripting television’s Show of Shows. This was a vehicle for Sid Caesar which ran on NBC from 1950 to 1954. When one reads the list of extraordinary people who were the real life inspiration for each character it’s obvious Simon was blessed with perfect auditory recall and could literally hear their voices in his head, forty years on!
The set by Lauren Ross was marvellous, as were her costumes, immediately placing us in time and context. There was one set but some gorgeous lighting design by Trent Suidgest, reset the times of day and season on the New York City skyline brilliantly.
Lucas Brinkman (James Sweeney) is the youngest, newest writer on the team. He winningly introduces us to the writers, leading up, of course, to the “name” of the show Max Prince.
This is a hugely demanding script and the ensemble worked tirelessly to maintain the cracking pace. There were some wonderfully zany, laugh out loud moments. I felt all the actors were excellent. Personally, my favourite performances were from Igor Sas, Damon Lockwood, Stuart Halusz and the dynamic Peter Rowsthorn. This is a roomful of strident, selfish Jewish New Yorkers (plus one Simon re-invented as an Irishman), with everything at stake. We see their insecurities and physical and mental foibles exposed beneath the witty, scathing one liners. A common theme of Simon’s later plays was the pathos beneath the Schtick.
McCarthy’s Communist hatred and anti-Semitism are snapping at their heels and ruthless producers are aiming to shorten to show and dumb it down to “shit”. This last a great soliloquy from Rowsthorn. His physicality was extraordinary, from the manic, wall-punching, tortured Max Prince to the gesturing, flailing muddled history heroes that Prince loved to quote. Rowsthorn’s comic business was superb. Plaudits to Andy Fraser’s choreography for the fight scene where slapstick meets violence head on.
It is a credit to Kate Cherry’s strong direction that it holds together as funnily and cleverly as it does under the enormous quantity of dialogue. An era meticulously recreated.
Black Swan State Theatre Company presents
Laughter on the 23rd Floor
by Neil Simon
Director Kate Cherry
Venue: Heath Ledger Theatre | State Theatre Centre of WA, Perth
Dates: 6 – 21 September 2014
Bookings: 1300 795 012 | ticketek.com.au