Theatre review: The Odd Couple, Comedy Theatre

Decades later, Neil Simon's play still feels sharp and relatable.
the Odd Couple. On a stage set of a New York apartment in the 1960s four white actors stand centre stage. On the left is a man in a brown jacket side on, addressing the others. Next to him is a fastidious man in a blue suit and red tie, holding something covered in a tea towel. Next is a blonde woman with a yellow, pink and white sleeveless dress and finally a woman with short dark hair and a yellow and green sleeveless dress. She is also facing in to the others.

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple debuted on Broadway in 1965 and has since seen many productions in theatres all over the world. This latest one at the Comedy Theatre in Melbourne demonstrates why it is a classic play with a night full of laughter. 

Oscar (Shane Jacobson) offers his friend Felix (Todd McKenney) a place to stay as he goes through a divorce. The problem, however, is that the two are totally mismatched. Oscar is messy; Felix has a compulsion to clean everything. Oscar is disorganised; Felix needs to plan everything down to the last detail. It is a combination that can never work and is the perfect set-up for a comedy. 

Jacobson and McKenney are an excellent pairing. They play off one another with ease and this is a play that doesn’t work unless the casting is right. They both embody their characters and deliver many hilarious moments. Their love interests are a pair of English sisters that live in the same building. Lucy Durack as Cecily and Penny McNamee as Gwendolyn Pigeon do their best to steal the show in their limited time on stage. Their giggly personalities and reactions to Felix’s bland conversation are one of the highlights of the show. 

Oscar and Felix have a regular poker game that opens the production. Roy (John Batchelor), Speed (Laurence Coy), Vinnie (Jamie Oxenbould) and Murray (Anthony Taufa) bring great energy to the show. The characters of Vinnie and Murray get their moments to shine, but in the only weakness in the script, Speed and Roy don’t have the same chance. This feels a bit like a missed opportunity, especially as the actors show great comic potential. 

Simon’s script has aged remarkably well. The dialogue feels as sharp and witty as it must have in 1965. The universality of the material certainly helps in this regard, as the audience can easily relate to the characters on some level. While set in New York presumably in the 1960s, the time and place for this material could be anywhere. 

The apartment in which the action takes place is cleverly designed by Justin Nardella. It provides a space for the action across the dining and lounge area, while giving the impression of a large apartment in the background. This is important, as it is meant to be far too big a place for Oscar to live in on his own and the design creates this illusion of space. The use of the telephone and references to outdated technology like telegrams feels quaint and adds a surprisingly fun element to the show. 

There are a couple of musical interludes between acts with some non-dialogue action that drag a bit and feel overly long. This is reflective of the physical comedy in the show not being as strong as the dialogue. While the former has its moments, it isn’t as consistently funny as the verbal interactions that bring rapid bursts of laughter. 

Read: Opera review: Tosca, Margaret Court Arena

Simon’s exploration of two conflicting characters has plenty of relevance more than half a century after its stage debut. This production highlights why, with an excellent cast that delivers the hilarious script with impeccable comic timing.

The Odd Couple by Neil Simon
The Comedy Theatre, Melbourne
Director: Mark Kilmurry
Set Designer: Justin Nardella
Lighting Designer: Trudy Dalgleish 
Sound Designer: Michael Waters
Costume Designer: Billy Roache
Wigs Designer: Michele Skeete
Technical Director: Frank Harlow
Executive Producer: Bernadette Hayes
Production Associate: Emilie Sturgeon
Producer: John Frost
Cast: Shane Jacobson, Todd McKenney, Lucy Durack, Penny McNamee, John Batchelor, Laurence Coy, Jamie Oxenbould, Anthony Taufa
Understudies: Julia Ohannessian, Berynn Schwerdt, Hayden Spencer

Tickets: $56-$159.90

The Odd Couple will be performed until 23 June 2024.

Kim Hitchcock is a freelance writer based in Melbourne who has an interest in all art forms and enjoys exploring them locally and abroad. He has completed a Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne and can be reached at