Edinburgh Makars provide a solid evening’s entertainment and some
big laughs in their production of Neil Simon’s Come Blow Your Horn at
Murrayfield Parish Church Centre.
This was Simon’s first play, and while it contains many of the
wisecracking exchanges which characterise his later, more celebrated
efforts, it would be too much of a stretch to call it an important work.
It seems to contain some semi-autobiographical elements, not least in
the character of Buddy Baker, a 21-year-old aspiring playwright who
‘runs away from home’ in order to move in with his thirty-something
Alan enjoys a carefree, womanising lifestyle from his New York bachelor
pad, while doing as little work as possible for their father’s wax
fruit business. Over the following weeks, Buddy transforms himself into
a carbon copy of his brother, while Alan begins to question his life
Betraying its roots in the television scripts Simon was working on
before his move into theatre, the play seems more like a generic sitcom
than a fully realised theatrical piece. The message that we all need to
grow up at some point is not a particularly profound one, and somewhat
It is also instructive to see how much a play first performed in 1961
now appears to be very much set in another world in terms of its events
there is more than enough enjoyment to be had here, and
the cast largely rise to the challenge.
Derek Melon is impressive in the central role of Alan, bringing a
ruffled, exasperated charm to what could be an extremely unsympathetic
role. Wullie Cunningham displays consummate comic timing as Mr Baker,
Alan and Buddy’s father, while Jan Renton’s hangdog, lugubrious air as
his wife leads to many of the biggest laughs.
Retro period charm without being overdone
Buddy’s transformation from a whining nerd in an oversized suit into a
confident, fashionable Lothario is well handled by Josh Sommariva,
although his performance as the latter is certainly the stronger of the
two, allowing him as it does to introduce more variety in his vocal
Becky Dunn is excellent as Peggy, the ditzy wannabe actress who is one
of Alan’s many dalliances. The part could be an unsatisfactory and
stereotypical one, but she manages to invest it with a real
believability. The role of Connie, the woman who is regarded by Alan as
‘different’, could also be a difficult one.
Fifty years after the play’s first performance, modern audiences are
likely to be bemused by an apparently strong woman whose only real
ambition is to be a ‘housewife’, but Carole Birse conveys the
contradictions of the character and her attractions for Alan
convincingly, despite occasional struggles with
accent. Tina Courtier’s cameo as ‘A Visitor”, meanwhile, in terms
of time on stage, must be a contender for the highest laughs-per-minute
ratio in the entire Fringe.
Margaret Milne’s unfussy direction keeps the action moving along
effectively, while the set is a particular joy, being full of retro
period charm without being overdone.
At times the dialogue might benefit from picking up in pace. There is
always a danger of going too fast with this kind of wisecracking
repartee, but here the cast sometimes go too far the other way. The
kind of crosstalk Simon uses, with characters picking up on each
other’s metaphors, is very far from being realistic; attempting to
present it as such can therefore make it seem a little too heavy.
It is noticeable that whenever a character becomes angry, the actors
work off each other more quickly and the rhythm of the performance
improves. As the run goes on, this may well be reflected in the rest of
what is already a highly enjoyable performance.
Running time 2 hrs
Run ends Sat 17 August 2013
Venue 104, Murrayfield Parish Church Centre, Ormidale Terrace, EH12 6EQ
Tickets from /www.edfringe.com
Makars website: www.edinburghmakars.com
the name of Neil
Simon to anyone and you are instantly reminded of his sharply observed
wit, and a style of sophisticated one-liners that are usually uttered
by cynical, worldly characters, eventually found possessing an unlikely
heart of gold. With the majority of his work, more often than not, set
around uptown New York during the 60’s and 70’s.
supply of plays and films that originated from his busy typewriter
includes some of the best-loved comedy writing of the past 50 years or
so. And this would go on to make him perhaps the most financially
successful writer of Broadway plays ever.
Even a scant look at
his output is enough to put a pleasurable smile on the most downcast of
faces: The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, The Sunshine Boys and The
Goodbye Girl, to name but a few.
His first major hit as a writer
came with his 1961 Broadway play Come Blow Your Horn, a production that
would set the template for many of his future successes. Two years
later it was made into a popular film with Frank Sinatra in the lead
role, ably supported by Lee J Cobb, hilarious as his combustible father.
Fringe production by
the amateur company The Edinburgh Makers sets the action in a cleverly
recreated look of a stylish bachelor apartment in New York, circa early
1960’s. The blurb in the programme invites the audience to “join the
dysfunctional Baker family in one of Neil Simon’s hilarious romps”. And
yet what you really get (and the main crux of the play) is one
brother’s avoidance of matrimony, whilst his younger brother (over a
swift 3 week period) casts off his nerdish nervousness of life by
eventually embracing the cool, hedonistic lifestyle of his elder
sibling. Much to the eternal annoyance and frustration of their
parents! But suffice to say that it all ends up happily with the family
reunited in harmony, and the status quo more or less retained.
it’s a familial rights of passage saga, with a light hearted New York
Jewish American slant, that invites lots of romantic complications,
maternal yearnings and paternal obstinacy. Not forgetting phones
ringing, doorbells ringing, and an endless supply of good-humoured
one-liners as the characters walk through the door.
What impressed me most was the lead players mastery of that peculiar
style of New York Jewish
most prevalent in
the majority of
Simon’s work. Although actress Carole Birse, playing the
Connie did equally pretty well with her rendition of American Deep
South tones. Not easy mixing that with your natural Scottish burr, I
could well imagine. No doubt she put in a lot of patience to capture
the nuances of that distinctive sound. Full marks for her efforts.
my money, the best performance came from the young Josh Sommariva, who
appeared the most comfortable on stage, as the younger brother Buddy,
evoking his uncertainty at flying the family nest for the very first
time, and acutely aware of how troubled and upset his parents would be
at this tentative display of youthful rebellion.
hats off to The Edinburgh Makers for attempting to bring something that
little bit different to the stage and to the Fringe this year, whilst
recreating in an Edinburgh Church Hall one of the forgotten comedy
glories of Broadway by one of the true masters of his craft. I am sure
that Mr Simon would have been most pleased by their collective efforts.
Blow Your Horn is a sprightly Sixties comedy by playwright Neil Simon,
who later went on to pen Barefoot in the Park and The Odd Couple.
Cue a series of New York apartment- based misunderstandings and
quick-fire family squabbling. If you can picture someone like Frank
Sinatra at the centre of it all, then you’d be spot on, the play having
been adapted into a film starring the twinkle-eyed crooner.
Heading the cast as irresponsible playboy Alan Baker, Derek Melon holds
the drama together well at Murrayfield Parish Church Centre, as his
world is simultaneously turned inside out by his girlfriend, his little
brother and his bummed out father.
Josh Sommariva, as Alan’s naive kid brother Buddy,
captures just the right tone, attitude and tempo to bring out the best
in his character and co-stars, although, the production as a whole
lacked the quick-fire energy required to really make it sing.
It’s almost as if the frenetic urgency that underscores 1960s New York
set productions has been amputated entirely.
The rest of the ensemble provide convivial turns, even if they all fall
prey to accent slip from time to time.
Carole Birse’s Connie might well be markedly improved if played in the
actress’s own accent, purely to make her more confident on stage.