Auckland theatre-goers get a rare chance to see a performance of one of American writer Neil Simon's plays, thanks to new theatre company Tadpole Productions which is staging his 1969 comedy The Last of the Red Hot Lovers.

It means a return to theatre for North Shore actor Peter Feeney, whose last stage appearance was four years ago in his solo show A Night with Beau Tyler.

Since 2008, Feeney has been busy with freelance writing, tutoring acting, TV and film work and helping to raise his three young children. With the oldest now at school and having wrapped some TV projects, he has finally found time for the stage.

Feeney plays Barney Cashman, an all-American everyman who has spent his life fulfilling the hopes and dreams of those around him. When Barney's father died, the son dutifully took over the family's restaurant and has been behind the counter ever since.


"Barney had a few goals of his own but he never got the chance to pursue them," he says. "His life has gone well but he's reached a point where he feels it's all been a bit uneventful. He's starting to ask whether this is all there is so he goes looking for something else, to be someone else."

Given that Simon's play is grounded very definitely in the sexual revolution of the 1960s, for Barney that "something else" is an extra-marital affair.

The story spans three separate afternoons during which Barney attempts to seduce three different women (played by Joy Buckle, Bodelle de Ronde and Anna Stillaman).

The play premiered on Broadway in 1960 and ran for 706 performances before it was turned into a 1972 film. Though Simon's plays aren't standard fare for professional theatre companies, recent revivals overseas of this one have proved popular. It got rave reviews at this year's Williamstown Theatre Festival in the United States and a 2010 production at Sydney's Ensemble Theatre was a sell-out. The Sydney Morning Herald said though the play was a little "creaky" four decades after its debut, it was still "a first-rate showcase for actors with comic flair".

Director and Tadpole co-founder John Antony says it was tempting to try to update the script in parts, but he decided instead to make it a celebratory romp through the 1960s; after all, he says, the success of shows like Mad Men demonstrates a strong interest in the era.

Antony saw the Sydney production, saying it was obviously a crowd-pleaser, and saw potential for it to be staged here. He says it's good for Tadpole to follow its debut production, a drama, with a comedy because it shows the company's versatility. Based at the PumpHouse in Takapuna, Tadpole launched earlier this year with a contemporary version of James Goldman's classic play The Lion in Winter.

Feeney acknowledges that playing the funny man is a role he's well suited for.

"When you start out as an actor, you have an idea of what you are going to be; for me it was Steve McQueen. You don't know what you're like or where you fit in and it's a difficult thing to be objective about."

What: The Last of the Red Hot Lovers
Where and when: PumpHouse Theatre to October 27