There’s nothing I love more than an evening at the beautiful Mill at Sonning. Always a gorgeous night but when the weather is just as stunning, it makes it even better. The latest show to play there is a revival of Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park.
Premiering on Broadway in 1963, Barefoot In The Park was adapted into a film in 1967 starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda. Telling the story of newlywed couple Corrie and Paul Bratter who move into their first home on the top floor of a brownstone in New York City, their newlywed bliss slowly ebbs away as the situation becomes far less than idyllic.
The role of Corrie Bratter is played by Hannah Pauley. Spending the vast majority of the time on the stage, she is joyful to watch as the positive yet naïve wife trying to hold everything together. Her husband Paul is played by Jonny Labey, who showed off his theatrical capabilities in Strictly Ballroom. With a great amount of charm, Jonny is captivating to watch even when his character is at his most one-note and withdrawn. This leads to a fantastic climax which sees Jonny play to his comic capabilities. Together, the pair display fabulous chemistry that lead you to believe they are really Newlyweds.
Rachel Fielding is wonderfully over the top as Corrie’s judgmental mother Mrs Banks. It’s what she doesn’t say that makes the role so funny with Rachel clearly having fun playing up to the characters eccentricities. James Simmons has a scene-stealing role as the madcap Victor Velasco, charming the audience as well as both of the female characters in the play. The cast of five is completed by Oliver Stanley in a small but memorable role as Harry Pepper.
While at its surface, not much appears to happen during the play. Barefoot In The Park slowly examines the pseudo-happiness of the Newlywed couple as everything around them chips away to reveal a darkness that threatens to end their marriage before it has even started. This is all done with a knowing wink to the audience, with the dialogue played out for laughs in this mostly light-hearted and often hilarious caper. As this was premiered in the 1960s, some of the dialogue hasn’t aged well with the attitudes towards women and a mildly homophobic line making a case for why certain lines should be updated or omitted when reviving problematic pieces.
Directed by Robin Herford, when the action moves away from their apartment, the audience doesn’t see it – instead using their imagination for whatever happens outside of those walls. The set itself has been fantastically designed by Michael Holt including a prominent window that lends itself to some of the best visual gags of the play. Sight gags are one of the best aspects of Barefoot In The Park with the never seen stairs providing some of the funniest moments.
Tickets to the Mill at Sonning include a stunning two course meal, which never fails to disappoint. Less than an hour away from London, the picturesque setting ensures nights there are always far more of an experience than solely seeing a show. That said, it helps when the show itself is joyous, and Barefoot In The Park is another triumph for them in that respect. Wonderfully acted on a great set, slightly problematic dialogue aside, this is another great show to add to The Mill at Sonnings already impressive repertoire.
Barefoot In The Park plays at the Mill at Sonning until August 20th. Tickets available from www.millatsonning.com
Photos by Andreas Lambis