Can’t run Barefoot in the Park without stubbing a toe

Stage

Some of you may be familiar with the play, Barefoot in the Park, by the American playwright Neil Simon. It was a huge success: nominated for three Tony awards and eventually becoming one of the longest-running Broadway shows in history. To others, as was the case for me, the play is perhaps more famous as the eponymous 1967 film adaptation, starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda, though it is on the play, rather than the film (which differs somewhat), that this production is based. The plot revolves around two newly-weds, Paul and Corrie Bratter, and their first forays into married life. Corrie is more lively and bubbly than the hard-working and more cautious Paul, and these differences in character lead to a frequent clashes of personality and a passionate and tempestuous relationship. This production emphasises the light-hearted fun and comedy value of the play, which sounds like an especially appealing proposition for seventh week of Trinity term, which for many is dominated by exams, revision and/or a woeful lack of work ethic.

The play is also interesting on a deeper, socio-cultural level (I realise that this may not be the best way to keep the attention of those of you for whom, at this point, any word even remotely academic induces an allergic reaction, but nevertheless): one of the most substantial changes in social mores of the past half-century has been the change in attitudes to pre-marital cohabitation. In this play, the newly-weds are living together for the first time and are thus having to make certain compromises and come to terms with their differences in character and outlook. Nowadays, needless to say, this is much less frequently an issue. That is not to say, however, that the play is by any means irrelevant to the modern day: most people will be able to relate to Corrie and Paul and their love, passion and, inevitably, occasional friction. Furthermore, their quirky-bordering-on-crazy neighbour, Victor Velasco, and Corrie’s well-meaning but somewhat meddling mother, Mrs Banks, will be recognisable, and perhaps even familiar, characters to many; and the affectionate, light-hearted humour of the play makes it accessible to all audiences.

One of the best things about the play, according to director Enni-Kukka Tuomala, is its realism: Neil Simon gives us a balanced, human portrayal of the two main characters: neither is more right or more wrong, neither is the better person in the relationship; and we can relate to and sympathise with both of them. This realism is even more poignant when one takes into account that the play was composed when the playwright himself was a newly-wed. In many ways it can thus be seen as a personal reflection on married life, from the perspective of someone trying to come to terms with his first experience of it, and indeed on relationships generally. But its focus is wider than that: Barefoot in the Park not only provides a window onto the culture and society of 1960s New York – which in itself will be appealing to many – but also explores the theme of two young people trying to find their way through life and love: a theme which is both universally relevant and endlessly fascinating.

Hannah Polonsky

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