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The Odd Couple - Sydney Theatre Royal (NSW)

Written by Neil Simon. Directed by Mark Kilmurry

Neil Simon's favourite odd-pairing feels awkwardly dated, but with two sets of extraordinarily likeable pairings throughout, the dust is almost swept away to deliver a release in classic comedy

Reviewed by Justin Clarke

Theatre Royal Sydney

27 June to 28 July 2024

It’s a comedy as classic as comedy itself: one’s a layabout slob, the other is an uptight neatfreak, together they make a perfectly odd couple. Neil Simon’s 1965 Broadway play was such a smash hit that it was turned into a film in 1968 and long-running TV series in 1970. Countless spinoffs and variations, including a gender-flipped version, The Female Odd Couple, have derived from Simon’s work, and now we have the superbly matched odd pairing on stage at the Theatre Royal in the form of Shane Jacobson and Todd McKenney

Jacobson and McKenney are themselves high calibre staples in the Australian entertainment world, having appeared on countless stages and screens between them. Individually, they’re great. Together, they’re a perfect leading duo. Jacobson’s slovenly and more relaxed Oscar Madison pairs well with McKenney’s uptight and weary Felix Ungar, the leading act between them enough to get audiences through the door. 

In a nutshell, after a recent divorce, McKenney’s Felix finds himself moving into his best friend’s apartment, Jacobson’s Oscar (himself a divorcee), and thus Felix’s need for home cooked meals, tightly zipped purse pockets, and need for purified air comes into an abrupt collision with Oscar’s more layabout, smoke filled and crumb leaving lifestyle. Cue the comedic mishaps.

The Odd Couple (2024). Images by Pia Johnson

Simon’s work, while a staple in classic comedy, struggles to find its place in a contemporary theatre world. The chauvinistic and outdated sexist dialogue spewing from its male characters is enough to get a huff and an eye roll out of an audience member. The comedy thrown around the ideas of self harm and suicide can be a tough pill to swallow for some members of the crowd, while others found a dark humour in its abruptness. At times, it feels like the last remnants of a bygone era of comedy. 

Despite the aged frays surrounding The Odd Couple, Jacobson and McKenney give it life in their constant bickering and one liners as the pair become an increasingly irritated defacto couple in Oscar’s eight bedroom apartment - an eight-bedroom apartment? In New York? Unheard of! 

...there’s more space here in which the didactic compatibility of the pair could have been played

Director Mark Kilmurry directs the piece in as straight an arrow as the script allows, but there is a yearning desire for more when you have the comedic chops of the actors that he’s been gifted. Scene transitions give McKenney an area to play in as he sweeps through Oscar’s life, figuratively and literally, but there’s more space here in which the didactic compatibility of the pair could have been played to warrant the climatic outburst from Oscar. 

Jacobson’s Oscar feels tight around the edges, wanting to break free and play into raucous comedy outside the confines of Simon’s dialogue. Their past productions together prove that McKenney and Jacobson are at their utmost funniest when giving free reign in a show, and that yearning to do so can almost be seen in The Odd Couple. Jacobson finds a definite glee in the inability to cope with Felix’s lifestyle and the final breaking straw in the play’s fourth act gives Jacobson that madcap insanity he clearly desires to reach. 

McKenney comes to the production with a grounded performance, despite his hysterical ramblings and dishevelment at his recent divorce, he has a purity surrounding Felix that draws sympathy from the audience throughout. The playfulness with which he invades Oscar’s lifestyle is hidden in McKenney’s small smirks and dancing around the stage in transitions. It’s clear that McKenney is loving doing this show with one of his closest theatrical friends.

...when you have pairings as likeable as Todd McKenney and Shane Jacobson, as well as Lucy Durack and Penny McNamee, the dust of Neil Simon’s text is almost swept away

Supporting the pair with overlapping guffaws and thickly laid on New York accents is Anthony Taufa, Laurence Coy, John Batchelor and Jamie Oxenbould. Amidst their desire to just play poker and smoke, there’s an inherent feeling of kinship amongst them as they act as an outlet for Oscar’s bachelor lifestyle. 

It’s when Lucy Durack and Penny McNamee’s Pigeon sisters enter that the piece lifts entirely. Durack and McNamee recognise the two-dimensional quality in their characters and are here to extract some of the biggest laughs from the production. With their obtuse British accents and high-pitched nasally voices, the pair outdo McKenney and Jacobson when the four are on stage together. The Pigeon’s repetitive sighs at the denouement of their joined laughter is infectious throughout the audience, and the pair do an abundance with the material given to them. 

The Odd Couple treads familiar ground and doesn’t deliver anything new or groundbreaking in this most recent production. But when you have pairings as likeable as Todd McKenney and Shane Jacobson, as well as Lucy Durack and Penny McNamee, the dust of Neil Simon’s text is almost swept away with a swish of Felix’s feather duster and offers a cathartic release in classic comedy. 


Listen to our full chat with Todd McKenney on the Theatre Thoughts Podcast now. You can also watch the chat over on our YouTube channel.


Shane Jacobson


Todd McKenney


Lucy Durack

Cecily Pigeon

Penny McNamee

Gwendolyn Pigeon

Laurence Coy


Anthony Taufa


John Batchelor


Jamie Oxenbould


Julia Ohannessian


Berynn Schwerdt


Hayden Spencer



Neil Simon


Mark Kilmurry


Justin Nardella


Trudy Dalgleish

Lighting Designer

Michael Waters

Sound Designer


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