Andrew Schofield and Alan Stocks to bring bickering double act to life
It's only a week into rehearsals for The Sunshine Boys and the play’s two stars are already finishing the ends of each other’s sentences.
Andrew Schofield and Alan Stocks play a former vaudeville double act who fell out years ago and are forced to reunite for a TV comedy special.
Al Lewis and Willie Clark are “like an old married couple”, the actors tell me in a break from rehearsing a scene where they are fighting over a telephone receiver.
Officially, they are out of character but certain traits appear to be creeping in. And while the actors are getting along just fine, they are definitely behaving as an extension of one other.
“Comedy duos or any types of duos always end up at loggerheads,” says Andrew, whose character Al Lewis was the one to break up the act, leaving Clark sitting around in his dressing gown for decades, wondering why he hasn’t been called up for the next job.
“They give the impression to the audience that they’re the best of friends but they’re not really.”
“But they need each other,” says Alan, “they need that bickering.
“They’re so vaudeville that they continue to speak as if they’re on stage even when they’re not. That’s how much it’s in their veins.
“They’ve still got the quick patter, even though other parts of their mind are not as sharp as they used to be.”
Neil Simon’s comedy is set in 1972 – the year it premiered on Broadway. The 1975 film version starred George Burns and Walter Matthau, while the 1995 TV film cast Woody Allen as Lewis and Peter Falk as Clark.
Last year, a new stage production starred Richard Griffiths and Danny DeVito in his West End debut.
“It’s popular, it’s funny, it’s one everyone knows – it’s perfect for the group of people we’ve got,” says director Stephen Fletcher, whose company is named Life in Theatre after its first production, a two-hander starring himself and Andrew Schofield.
The Sunshine Boys is the first professional play in which the director has played alongside his brother Michael, who incidentally made it to the final 20 in 2012’s ITV talent show Superstar.
“What time is it? We’ve got to half two without falling out so we’re getting there,” jokes Stephen, who plays Clark’s nephew Ben, a theatrical agent on Broadway who gets his uncle the job in the CBS variety special.
“It’s been lovely,” adds Michael, who as well as having several smallish parts in the play, helped to design and build the set.
“I’ve always wanted to work together and it’s really nice to get the opportunity to watch him strut his stuff a little bit.”
Liam Tobin as the TV special’s director and Helen Carter (who co-starred with Stephen Fletcher in The Last 5 Years back in June) complete the cast.
Helen, who plays a sexy nurse in Lewis and Clark’s most famous sketch as well as the contrasting role of Clark’s actual nurse, is also designing the costumes and helping Michael with the set.
“We’re having to be quite clever with the choices we make so we don’t overspend,” she says. “I like the challenge of it.”
“We always joke in rehearsal that it’s us and a box of hats,” says Stephen.
Alan continues: “That’s why it suits vaudeville because a lot of acts were. . .” – “Out of a trunk,” interjects Andrew.
“They were like the travelling salesmen of entertainment,” concludes Alan.
It’s also fitting that the production is being put on at the Epstein Theatre, which regularly welcomed variety acts during its early history.
“It’s a shame there’s not more of it still about,” says Alan.
“Vaudeville had very few rules to it really. Whether it was music hall or getting some animals to ride cycles, you could basically get away with anything as long as it entertained.
“Then comedy moved on. Another thing you get from the play is how one generation can move on from another and suddenly you get left on the shelf. “
The Sunshine Boys is a the Epstein Theatre from August 15 to September 7. Previews, with tickets priced from £11, are from August 15-20.