Theatre Review: The Prisoner of Second Avenue @ Vaudeville Theatre

By Zoe Craig Last edited 102 months ago
Theatre Review: The Prisoner of Second Avenue @ Vaudeville Theatre

0714_prisoner.jpg Jeff Goldblum is back on the London stage. For theatregoers who love to see celebs performing live in the West End, The Prisoner of Second Avenue certainly looks like one of theatre's hot tickets for summer 2010.

And with its themes of recession, unemployment and a city on the verge of collapse, this 1970s black comedy sounds ripe for revival.

What a shame, then, that Neil Simon's play is such an absolute turkey.

Goldblum plays Mel, a 47-year-old Manhattan advertising executive on the brink of breakdown. Everything stresses him out: his noisy air-hostess neighbours, garbage cans on the street outside, barking dogs, a hissing toilet. When he finally loses his job, he cracks up, prowling the apartment in his pyjamas, paranoia pinching at his heels.

Goldblum delivers his strings of one liners with panache. Along with his excellent comic timing, and super-slick sing-song delivery, Goldblum's a great physical actor too, curling his impossibly long limbs around his angst at one point, flailing at his futile existence at another. And he's more than matched by Mercedes Ruehl as Mel's long-suffering wife, Edna. For the first few scenes, the pair of them deliver a masterclass in modern comic acting. And the laughs come, line after line after line.

But when it starts to become clear that this is all there is, (more brilliant one liners, more hilarious "Noo Yoik" intonation, more weary woe-is-me ranting), you can't help feeling utterly cheated by Neil Simon's structureless script. (And your £50 tickets.)

The too-late arrival of Mel's family, both in plot development terms, and for introducing a new set of characters to the stage, only makes matters worse. For some reason, the four siblings play the scene entirely still, most of them sitting down. We longed for Goldblum and Ruehl's manic energy, even if it is going nowhere, to lift the play again.

Towards the end, we found ourselves watching the door of Rob Howell's stylish 1970s set, hoping someone was going to come through it and execute a dénouement, rescue the plot, teach us something, give us something to think about.

In fact, the play ends in a hollow, humourless stalemate: Goldblum and Ruehl sitting frozen on their sofa, staring grimly ahead, as snow falls. We felt like joining them.

The Prisoner of Second Avenue plays at the Vaudeville Theatre until 25 September. Book online here, or call the box office on 0844 8717656. Tickets from £39.50 to £65. If you're an extreme Jeff fan, do it. Otherwise, we might give it a miss. He'll be back in something better.

Last Updated 14 July 2010