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Barefoot in the Park at the Mill At Sonning Theatre

It’s Neil Simon’s (1927-2018) script that sets the show firmly in an era when a landline telephone is a top priority for engineer Harry Pepper (Oliver Stanley) and youngsters like Paul (Jonny Labey) and Corrie (Hannah Pauley) only seem to have tied the knot because that’s what people did – to just live together without being married would be ‘living in sin’. The set and costumes, however, do little to evoke the Sixties, or indeed the time of year. The skylight of Paul and Corrie’s top-floor apartment in New York City has a hole, but Corrie in particular is dressed for a summer picnic.

BAREFOOT IN THE PARK - The Mill at Sonning Jonny Labey and Hannah Pauley Photo Andreas Lambis Photography.
BAREFOOT IN THE PARK – The Mill at Sonning Jonny Labey and Hannah Pauley Photo Andreas Lambis Photography.

The play’s title is derived from an apparent literal practice of Corrie, but also evokes what she would like Paul to do, figuratively speaking. He is an attorney at law, conservatively dressed and conservatively minded, the polar opposite of Corrie’s somewhat carefree and highly erratic disposition. Some of the punchlines don’t quite have the force they would have done a generation ago: Corrie practically yelling, “I am not hysterical!” during a fit of hysteria makes one want to roll one’s eyes rather than roll over with laughter.

The ending is rather abrupt, and while it is a good thing for a play not to tie every knot so neatly that there is nothing left to the imagination, it is unclear what happens to any of the characters. Ethel Banks (Rachel Fielding), Corrie’s mother, conveniently hits it off with Paul and Corrie’s downstairs neighbour Victor Velasco (James Simmons). Their relationship, if it can be called that, is in some respects another version of Paul and Corrie’s, one uptight and the other throwing caution to the wind, such that the play makes the point that opposites attract twice over.

Theoretically, this is an ideal dinner theatre production. It’s not too complicated, even if that’s because it doesn’t delve deep enough into the themes it explores. It’s not too long, either, and leaves the audience wanting more, which is always better than the alternative. The Mill at Sonning offers a cooked dinner, served buffet style, allowing patrons to pile their plate as high as they wish, though I would recommend not overdoing it on the gravy, unless you’re up for the challenge of balancing your plate in such a way that none of it spills before you get to your table. Before the show, at the interval, and after the show, a number of patrons commented on how they had eaten much more than they ordinarily would. There’s a dessert menu, too, with some flexibility if there’s nothing that takes your fancy.

As for the show, a two-hour running time felt longer than it was, because the dialogue is, from what I can gather, meant to be delivered at pace, with the wit drawn out through sharp and snappy exchanges. In this production, the pacing is far from tepid, but it needed more edginess to be fully engaging. Perhaps the music, pre-show and between scenes, could have included some recognisable 1960s melodies to reinforce the setting too.

3 Star Review

Review by Chris Omaweng

They play newlyweds Paul and Corie, who are excited to begin their life together in their new apartment in Manhattan.

It may be small and a six-flight climb, the heating may be busted and snow may be falling through the skylight, but nothing can quash their newlywed bliss. Paul is a straight-laced lawyer and Corie a romantic free-spirit; nevertheless, opposites attract and the two are wild about each other. Corie decides to set her conservative widowed mother up with their eccentric, bohemian neighbour – Mr Velasco. A wild night ensues, one that highlights just how different Corie and Paul are. The young couple must learn how to accept and embrace their differences as they learn that marriage is no easy walk in the park – shoes or no shoes.

The cast is completed by Rachel Fielding, James Simmons, Oliver Stanley.

Creative team: Director Robin Herford. Set Designer Michael Holt . Costume Designer Natalie Titchener.

Barefoot in the Park
by Neil Simon
directed by Robin Herford

The Mill at Sonning Theatre
Sonning Eye
Reading RG4 6TY
Box Office: 0118 969 8000

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1 thought on “Barefoot in the Park at the Mill At Sonning Theatre”

  1. Very much enjoyed the Barefoot in the Park play which I saw with friends today.
    It was funny, well acted, very professional!!
    My only comment would be the very abrupt ending, suddenly Paul is on the roof and
    Corie is going to rescue him and then lights go down, and the cast appear for the end
    Disappointed that we never saw the rescue and then the final embrace of them being back in harmony.

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