Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths
in The Sunshine Boys
(© Johan Persson)
Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths
in The Sunshine Boys
(© Johan Persson)
In his impressive West End debut, Danny DeVito injects some vital heat and energy into Thea Sharrock's otherwise surprisingly stately revival of Neil Simon's comedy, The Sunshine Boys at the Savoy Theatre.

DeVito plays the cantankerous Willie Clark, one half of Vaudeville double-act, Lewis and Clark. Although they were together on stage for 43 years, far longer than most marriages, he hasn't spoken to his former partner, Al Lewis (Richard Griffiths) for over a decade.

Clark spends his days reading the obituaries in Variety while living in a shabby residential hotel in New York; Lewis has retired from the business completely and is living out in the country with his daughter.

Offered the opportunity to be reunited for a television special on the history of vaudeville, Clark is initially hostile; even at the peak of their fame, his partner drove him to distraction, with all his spitting and finger-poking, but eventually, grudgingly he comes round to the idea, aided by his amiable and much put-upon, nephew/agent Ben (Adam Levy).

Time apart hasn't dimmed their apparent dislike of one another and they're soon back to their old patterns of marital sniping and goading, pressing each other's buttons, and pulling each other's strings. Simon's best lines are delivered with polish and ease -- and there's an underlying sense of affection beneath all the bickering -- but there's never a sense of real bitterness nor animosity. One also never truly senses the connection that held these two men together for almost a half a century.

Shuffling around in his pajamas, DeVito is wonderfully cranky as Clark. It's a very physical performance. He hops and snaps and snarls and grimaces; he quivers with frustration and rage, and can milk a laugh from a single raised eyebrow if he so chooses.

Griffiths seems rather more distanced from things, He gives a slower, calmer, and more laid-back performance, although he is amusingly dogged in his refusal to let Willie move a chair one inch or change one single line of dialogue.

There's a poignant quality to the production's later moments as the two men's increasing fragility and dependency on one another becomes apparent, but again one is left wishing for a bit more depth.