The Sunshine Boys

Written by Neil Simon

Thurs 20th - Sat 22nd November & Tues 25th - Sat 29th November 2003

Directed by Simon Walton

The famous vaudeville team of Al Lewis and Willie Clark, otherwise known as 'The Sunshine Boys', despite working together for 43 years, could not stand each other. More importantly they haven't talked since Lewis walked out on the team's final show 11 years ago leaving Clark, a die-hard New Yorker showman, to soldier on regardless.

The attempt by Ben, Willie's nephew, to get the obstinate duo back together one last time for a CBS History of Comedy special makes for "one of the great comedies by one of the great American comic writers".

AuthorNeil Simon

Marvin Neil Simon (b 1927)

Simon was born in the Bronx and grew up in Washington Heights at the northern tip of Manhattan. His writing career began when he joined the US Army and started to write for the Army camp newspaper. After his discharge he returned to New York, and with his brother Danny began writing comedy revues which were broadcast first on radio and then on television. Writing for 'The Phil Silvers Show' and Sid Caesar's 'Your Show of Shows' alongside the likes of Woody Allen, Mel Brooks and Larry Gelbart, Simon received several Emmy Award nominations for his television work.

He then moved on to the stage where he had a remarkable string of hits which began with 'Come Blow Your Horn' and proved commercially profitable. At times 5 of his shows were running on Broadway simultaneously, and his work from this time includes 'Barefoot in the Park', 'The Odd Couple', 'Sweet Charity', 'The Star Spangled Girl', 'Plaza Suite', 'Last of the Red Hot Lovers', and 'Promises, Promises'. The commercial success was soured only by the critics willingness to dismiss him as a mere "writer of gags."

While he received some recognition for his earlier writing, widespread critical acclaim only followed later in his career, after Simon had moved to California following the death of his first wife in 1973. (Later he married the actress Marsha Manson). His autobiographical trilogy - 'Brighton Beach Memoirs', 'Biloxi Blues' and 'Broadway Bound' - was followed by 'Lost in Yonkers' for which he won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.

During the course of his career, Simon has won three Tony Awards for Best Play ('The Odd Couple', 'Biloxi Blues' and 'Lost in Yonkers'), He has had more plays adapted to film than any other American playwright and, in addition, has written nearly a dozen original screenplays himself. He received Academy Award nominations for his screenplays 'The Odd Couple', 'The Sunshine Boys' and 'California Suite'. He has also been the recipient of the Antoinette Perry Award, the Writers' Guild Award, the Evening Standard Award, the New York Drama Critics Circle Award, the Shubert Award, the Outer Circle Award, and a 1978 Golden Globe Award for his screenplay, 'The Goodbye Girl'.

PlayThe Sunshine Boys

'The Sunshine Boys' was originally produced on Broadway in 1972 and later adapted for film and television. As a play it was nominated for a Best Play Tony Award.

The story focuses on characters Al Lewis and Willy Clark, a one-time vaudevillian team known as "Lewis and Clark" who, over the course of forty-odd years, not only grew to hate each other but never spoke to each other off-stage throughout the final year of their act. The stubborn Clark, who was not ready for retirement, resented the wiser Lewis for breaking up the act when he opted to leave show business. It is now 1972 and CBS is inviting the team to reunite for a special on the history of comedy, with the pair representing the vaudeville era at its best. Clark is convinced by his nephew Ben to revive one of the old routines one last time. Much of the humour is derived from efforts to get the two cantankerous actors into the same room for a rehearsal, their differences of opinion once they reunite, and their shenanigans on the actual broadcast.

The Bench Production

The Sunshine Boys poster image

This play was staged at Havant Arts Centre, East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Willie ClarkAndy Rees
Ben SilvermanMark Wakeman
Al LewisPete Woodward
PatientJasper Utley
TV ProducerSue Dawes
TV AssistantVicky Hayter
TV NurseSophie Stoppani
NurseRuth Prior
Voice OverAlan Welton
Darryl Wakelin


Director Simon Walton
Producer Damon Wakelin
Stage Manager John Wilcox
Lighting Design Damon Wakelin
Sound Design Daryl Wakelin
Lighting Operation Alice Corrigan
Sound Operation Angela Evans
Set Design Simon Walton

Director's Notes

The basic premise is simple and in my mind works very well given our often sentimental approach to items of nostalgia. We often remember with fondness the great shows of yesteryear only to find on second viewing that either the people of the material wasn't how we remembered. Additionally as perhaps older counterparts of Felix and Oscar in The Odd Couple while the anger and jokes are all there, there is also a touch of sadness underneath the surface.

Simon Walton


The NewsJames George

Great performances - shame about the play

This curiously unsatisfactory play receives a most satisfactory airing from Havant's always-worthy Bench Theatre. Please note - the play is unsatisfactory, the performance is not. Unsatisfactory? The plot (a much-loved vaudeville double-act reunites years later to revive the act for a television nostalgia fest despite their mutual loathing) has no sparkle or surprise - but it does afford opportunity for stinging one-liners.

And those one-liners are delivered with great panache by both Andy Rees - with his excellent timing - and the superb Pete Woodward. Their onstage relationship crackles with hysterical bitterness and Woodward in particular, gives a balanced performance well-rooted in reality. Mark Wakeman, as always, acts with vigour and his eye for detail is well-used here. A nice performance from Ruth Prior as Rees's long-suffering nurse, too.

Some long-winded (though unavoidable) scene changes interrupt the action and some members of the cast should be never again to be cast in American-accented roles again, but if you're looking for a good laugh with a suspicion of good old American sentimentality thrown in, you should give this easy-going production a visit. The Bench continue to show what good local theatre is all about. Until next Saturday.

The News, 21st November 2003

Production Photographs