Laughter on the 23rd Floor, Sutton Arts Theatre Company, Sutton Coldfield

laughter
Laughter on the 23rd Floor is a Neil Simon comedy which opened on Broadway in 1993.According to Simon, Sid Caesar’s writers on the original Your Show of Shows ,including himself and his older brother Danny Simon, held their script sessions at various times on the eleventh and the twelfth floors of an NBC-TV office building the amalgamation of which created the 23rd floor.

Reputedly the sources for the cast’s characters include– Mel Tolkin for the Russian emigre Val, Mel Brooks for Ira, Larry Gelbart and Carl Reiner for Kenny. “Laughter” is set in the writers’ room of the fictional “Max Prince Show,” based on the Caesar series. Simon’s alter ego, Lucas, is the new writer, the youngster hoping to become a permanent part of the team, who also narrates proceedings. Funny, fast paced, and witty, it also has Simon’s trademark undercurrent of nostalgia, and youthful-paradise lost, interlaced with true and apocryphal stories from the Writing Room.

Director Joanne Elllis has assembled a fine cast for this run, all up to the task of fleshing out some instantly recognisable archetypes who perform eschewing obvious stereotypical characterisation . The costume choice is authentic and inspired, the American accents consistent.

Dexter Whitehead plays new boy Lucas Brickman well, combining self-effacing tentativeness as a novice team member with reflective authority in his role as narrator. Alan Lane revels in the role of Brian ,the grumpy old git ,invariably on the cusp of his big breakthrough, Gary Pritchard makes the most of a flamboyant wardrobe and the best lines of the evening. Vainglorious Max Prince is a gem of a part and Andrew Tomlinson becomes Max , paranoid, deluded larger than life and with no need for trousers while writing . Ian Cornock as Kenny is suitably suave and debonair, Tim Hughes as Ira offers more than a touch of Woody Allen in his interpretation of the part which offers the benefit of physical as well as verbal comedy which he exploits well.

There are only two minor roles for women in the production. Aimee Horner takes on emerging feminism in her demand to be accepted as a writer, and not a token female, doing very well with an underwritten part.Aimee Hall makes the most of her cameo appearances as office secretary looking stunning in her party dress at the end of the show.

For me the most satisfying performance came from Dan Payne as Russian émigré Val. His physical appearance resembles that of comedian Omid Djalili. He dominated the verbal sparring combining pathos with profanity in equally amusing measure. The cast of nine is introduced to the stage in dribs and drabs meaning that it takes about fifteen minutes for the whole cast to assemble, and it is only then that the script starts to fire on all cylinders.

Set in New York City in the 1950s , over sixty years ago, the McCarthyite Communist witch hunts provide a context for the story but the main narrative is of a writer having fun with a comedy about writers. With a lesser talent the results could have been narcissistic and self indulgent, but Simon’s writing and Elliis’s production avoid the obvious bear-traps.Laughter on the 23rd Floor serves as an exhibit in the metaphorical museum of television, a relic of a form of entertainment long gone, although the themes of budget cuts, advertiser led material, and creative compromise are as relevant now as they were then.

This fine revival of one of Simon’s lesser known, but funniest, comedies runs from Tues 20th to Sat 29th June.

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