Same Time, Next Year by Bernard Slade- South African production 2023

Performers: Alan Committie and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner
Director: Chris Weare
Designer: Niall Griffin
Dance videos: Daniel Manners. and choreography by Duane Alexander  

Where and when:
Cape Town: Pieter Toerien’s Theatre On The Bay –  August 30 to  September 16, 2023
Johannesburg: Pieter Toerien’s Montecasino Theatre – September 20 to October 8, 2023

Duration: About two hours, including a 20-minute interval
Producers: Pieter Toerien Productions and Gloucester Productions  

Screamingly funny, massively entertaining: Exceptional performances by Alan Committie and Sharon Spiegel-Wagner, in Same Time, Next Year. The 2023 South African production of the Tony award winning play and mega hit, by the late Bernard Slade, is a pleasure in every way. This production of the 1975 romantic comedy is not only heaps of fun, but it is also innovative, energetic and fresh. I loved every moment.

Same Time, Next Year (STNY) tracks the trajectory of the affair of George (Alan Committie) and Doris (Sharon Spiegel-Wagner). They are married – to other people –and stay married. What starts off as one night hook-up, develops into a relationship in a hotel room, over 25 years. The changes – physical and emotional – in George and Doris -are brilliantly rigged by designer Niall Griffin in his delicious wardrobe choices – and hair styles. They change as the years go by, but the hotel room stays the same (awful 70s décor urghh). Chris Weare’s direction heightens the comedy and also the emotional vicissitudes as George and Doris, deal with aging, loss, grief, self-doubt and personal aspirations.

Committie, in addition to being a two times Fleur du Cap Theatre Award winning actor, he is maven of comedy and stand-up comedy. In STNY, his comedic smarts are on steroids- riffing off Spiegel-Wagner and her terrific comedic talents. They are in tune at all times with the audience- cueing in to the shrieks of laughter.

Bernard Slade (who died November 2019), wrote extensively for TV. He was the scriptwriter for the pop music sitcom, The Partridge Family. In this production of STNY, the energy pinged for me off 70s sitcom- so much fun. On the note – of fun – there is a wonderful choice of music in this production as we get a sense of the soundtrack of Doris and George’s lives. There are fabulous dance videos – in between scenes- with Doris and George dancing to the melodies of their snatched moments of liaisons – beyond their marriages and ‘real’ lives.

In a 1996 interview with The Los Angeles Times, Bernard Slade mused: “I felt I was writing a fantasy … Then I start to get letters from people that had had this sort of relationship.” It is a delicious construct, Slade builds up. After the initial guilt and remorse in the opening (Committie as the neurotic nebbish in his hideous 70s toupee – I am still laughing), the characters, in their happy place, mostly let go of their remorse and revel in their connection, friendship and support for each other – even when they argue about politics and morality. It is hilarious as they are not exactly paragons of virtue.

I have seen STNY in stagings in Johannesburg (a long time ago) and in Cape Town and this production, it was if I was seeing the play for the first time. I read reviews of recent stagings abroad and many critics said that the play has great bones but that it came across as dated. The SA production – PTP Productions and Gloucester Productions – is fresh and fabulous.

In staging this production, Weare, working with Committie has shifted the time frame. The original play was set from 1951 to 1975. This production is set from 1976 to 2001. So, it is still a period play-another period- not now – but there are references which key us in and which positions the play into the frame of our times. Look out for the rise of Donald Trump and Swine Flu epidemic. They have used some lines from Slade’s sequel, Same Time, Another Year (set from 1976 – 1993), which are hilarious, Watch at the end- a hoot- as Committie and Speigel-Wagner crack the audience up- and themselves. There has been the addition of some lines by Weare and Committie and some ad-libbing but this material has been spliced into the bones of Slade’s snappy dialogue.  This STNY – has been brilliantly rendered – nips and tucks to period and politics, off-the-charts hilarious performances, staging, design and music.

This production poignantly conveys the breakdown of the American Dream. Within the hilarity – grief is beautifully woven into the narrative – so with all the laughing – there are moments of tearing up. Then the protagonists find their happy mojo and celebrate their happy place. We leave the theatre, uplifted and feeling very happy. STNY is a proudly South African triumph of a hit-play – brimming with an energy and vigour.

❇ Pics by Claude Barnardo. Supplied.