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Neil Simon's Rose and Walsh at Stirling Theatre

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Neil Simon’s last play delivers comedy that stirs the heart
Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
The titular Rose and Walsh, plays by Gwen Browning, left, and Gordon Park.

A play from the writer of The Odd Couple and Barefoot in the Park is coming to Stirling Theatre. Neil Simon's Rose and Walsh, directed by Carryn McLean, is the story of two ageing lovers who were once literary giants.

Once-successful author Rose is going blind and facing bankruptcy while her former lover Walsh makes an offer that will earn her millions and secure her financial future – the only problem is that Walsh is dead. The audience is privy to the amusing private conversations between Rose and Walsh but other characters can only hear what Rose is saying.

Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
Rose (Gwen Browning, left) and Arlene (Amanda Bird) in Neil Simon's Rose and Walsh.

Playwright Neil Simon was also responsible for Sweet Charity, Plaza Suite, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, They're Playing Our Song, Biloxi Blues and Lost in Yonkers with Rose and Walsh his last play. "It's a very funny script where rapid-fire jokes between Rose and Walsh are made at the expense of each other," Carryn said. "But there is a serious side, dealing with ageing, death and grief.

"There are so many expectations from audiences of Neil Simon plays and it can be daunting for any director to do justice to his work, given he has won numerous Oscar and Tony Awards over his 40-year career. With Rose and Walsh, we need to show the humour without trivialising the content – Walsh isn't a ghost but a product of Rose's vivid imagination as she deals with her love of Walsh and grief at his passing."

Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
Director Carryn McLean, left

After joining Patch Theatre in 1967, Carryn became a founding member of Stirling Theatre in 1970 and has appeared in numerous plays with the company over the years. She was made a life member in 2000 and has also directed No Time On, Saving Ardley, Anne of Green Gables, Little Women, Two Weeks with the Queen, It's A Wonderful Life and The Actress.

In 2017, she received the Susan Hayward Award for Best Director of a Play at the annual Finley Awards for her production of Moonlight and Magnolias at Limelight Theatre.

Carryn also spent 7½ years with the Perth Theatre Trust from its formation in 1979 and was involved in the refurbishment of His Majesty's Theatre. "This was a most exciting time, watching the re-creation of one of Perth's much-loved theatres," she said. "The formation of the trust which, together with many promoters, helped bring much-needed live entertainment – including international stars and companies – to WA."

Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
The cast of Neil Simon's Rose and Walsh features Gordon Park, left, Benedict Chau, Amanda Bird and Gwen Browning.

Carry's desire to direct Rose and Walsh came from her enjoyment of Neil Simon's other plays. "His writing has a mixture of realism and fiction behind it," she said. "The topic of death, and how loved ones deal with their loss, is something we all have experienced at some time or another.

"Our own personal grief can sometimes consume us and we fail to notice the effect this has on those around us. Simon handles the mixture of humour and grief with great skill, comic writing and much sensitivity."

Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
Playwright Neil Simon

Simon told The New York Times in 1992: "I know how the public sees me. Because people are always coming up to me and saying 'Thanks for the good times'. But all the success has demeaned me in a way. Critically, the thinking seems to be that if you write too many hits, they can't be that good.

"I don't wear my feelings outwardly because I get in trouble one way or the other if I let the emotions come out. Sometimes I can't put a cap on them and go too far. If I allowed myself to speak the way some of my characters do in the plays, I'd be going to the mat all the time.

Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
Rose (Gwen Browning, left) isn't aware her former partner Walsh (Gordon Park) is dead).

"What I would like to say and what I would like to be, however, can come out in the work. I may not be as overtly romantic as Richard Dreyfuss was in The Goodbye Girl, for example. Still, I wrote it. I thought of those things to say. So I know that's part of me. And how much difference is there between what you think and what you actually do? At one point a censor intervenes. But I have permission to do all these things on the stage and so I take advantage of it. I can be stark naked up there on the stage, as long as I'm standing in the back of the house."

Dying at age 91 in 2018, an obituary in The Guardian quoted Simon as saying: "…I can never complain about my career in the theatre. I've had a great time," he said. "[Writing] works out all my problems. Even if the play doesn't deal with what you're going through in your life, there's something cathartic about it."

Rose and Walsh, Neil Simon, Stirling Theatre, performing arts, comedy, play, The Odd Couple, Barefoot in the Park, Sweet Charity
Neil Simon's Rose and Walsh features Amanda Bird, left, as Arlene and Benedict Chau as Clancy.

And in Endangered species: writers talk about their craft, their visions, their lives, author Lawrence Grobel writes: "Simon towers like a colossus over the American theatre. When Neil Simon's time comes to be judged among successful playwrights of the 20th century, he will definitely be first among equals. No other playwright in history has had the run he has: 15 'best plays' of their season."

Neil Simon's Rose and Walsh plays at 7.30pm November 25, 26, December 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10 with 2pm matinees November 27 and December 4. Tickets are $22, $20 concession – book at www.trybooking.com/BZPWM. Stirling Theatre is on Morris Place, Innaloo.

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Why? The dialogue crackles with humour, love, and frustration to deliver pitch-perfect, comedic gold – what else would you expect from someone who wrote some of the best plays in the second half of the 20th century?
When: 7.30pm November 25, 26, December 1, 2, 3, 8, 9 & 10; 2pm November 27 & December 4
Where: Stirling Theatre, Morris Place, Innaloo
Cost: $22, $20 concession
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