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When Olive met Florence

PUBLISHED: 11:59 15 June 2009 | UPDATED: 17:24 16 August 2010

CONSIDERING that women far outnumber men in amateur theatre groups, it s surprising that the female version of Neil Simon s

CONSIDERING that women far outnumber men in amateur theatre groups, it's surprising that the female version of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple doesn't get more of an airing, writes Mark Campbell.

Performed last week at the Erith Playhouse, this 1985 play is a virtually identical retread of the classic 1965 comedy.

Oscar Madison becomes Olive Madison, and Felix Unger becomes Florence Unger, while their poker-playing buddies are now Trivial Pursuit-playing girlfriends. Two timid sisters become two comic Spaniards.

Otherwise it's business as usual. Olive, a divorced TV producer, opens her flat up to the suicidal Florence after she splits with her husband of 14 years.

It only takes a few days for these two disparate characters to rub each other up the wrong way, and after a fortnight they're at each other's throats.

Directed by John McLaren and Scott Godfrey, this was a very funny production which clearly signposted all Neil Simon's gags to great effect.

What it lacked, however, was a real contrast between the two central characters.

Paula Palmer was excellent as the strait-laced and anally retentive Florence, whose annoying habits - such as noisy sinus-clearing and constant tidying up - became a real source of irritation for her companion.

But there was no evidence that Olive, played by Polly Owen, was "the biggest slob in the world".

Neatly attired in bright figure-hugging clothes and with a dancer's poise, she looked every bit as smart as Florence.

This was a central flaw in the production that left much of the conflict between this supposed 'odd couple' lacking in realism.

However, there was still much to enjoy, with standout performances from Peter Sapi and Ian Diggens as the farcical Spanish brothers, and Debbie Hoyle as Olive's dimwitted friend Vera. Sara Nichols, Helen Bezer and Rachel De Silva played strong supporting roles.

The next production at the Erith Playhouse is a musical version of The Railway Children by Peter Quartermain, from June 29 to July 4. Tickets: 01322 350345.

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