THE funniest moments in Neil Simon's comedies usually have to do with
the coming together of completely opposite personalities -- Felix and
Oscar in The Odd Couple, for instance, or Paul and Corie in Barefoot in
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the Park. Fools (given its Scottish premiere at the end of last week at
the Chandler Studio, RSAMD, Glasgow) takes such incongruity to whimsical
Young Leon is a school teacher positively glowing with the higher joys
of education while Sophia, whom he loves at first sight, is as supremely
ignorant as she is lovely. Ah! 'tis the curse of Kulyenchikov at work .
. . or rather a cheerfully scratched together plot line which borrows
various elements from Chekovian short stories, fairy tales and
pantomime, to create a seriously silly farce.
Events before the curtain rises (in around 1890) mean that everyone in
the Russian village of Kulyenchikov has been cursed with profound
stupidity. Enter our school teacher hero, Leon, who knows nothing of
this, of course, but has arrived to bring culture, the classics,
philosophy, et al to a community that can't tell the day of the week or
in some cases even remember its own name.
What follows is pretty much boy meets girl stuff, frequently enlivened
by Simon's exploitation of the inevitable misunderstandings that arise
between Leon and the villagers. There are some splendid one-liners, some
delicious running gags but frankly the script lacks the incisive sparkle
that one expects from Simon.
Is it a happy ending? Well the curse is lifted but when everybody gets
smart, the going gets more realistically worldly in the village, though,
for Leon, it's a chance to settle for the simple pleasures of family
life. Awe, shucks! Made in Glasgow -- a student company from within the
RSAMD's own ranks -- offer an amiable production of a comedy which is
remarkably sticky with sentiment.
At times it's as if one was being mugged in the mind with melted
molasses. David Tennant brings a nice naivety to the learned Leon, Emma
Fielding makes very nice work of Sophia's pretty little instances of
intellectual clutziness. The whole cast, despite wrestling with cod
Russian accents, act with an engaging freshness but really the whole
thing is too soggy, too wide-eyed, too contrivedly cute to be more than
a satisfying sketch drawn out beyond its merits.