The Sunshine Boys (in preview)

Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths in The Sunshine Boys
Danny DeVito and Richard Griffiths in The Sunshine Boys

DANNY DeVito makes his West End debut in Neil Simon’s hilarious homage to vaudeville, The Sunshine Boys, and I hope someone steals his passport to prevent him ever leaving the UK.

This naturally funny actor won a tumultuous standing ovation at the performance I saw at The Savoy Theatre and I’m guessing it has been replicated ever since.

He’s right at home as the curmudgeonly old stage star Willie Clark who, until an acrimonious split from his performing partner, was one half of the “legendary” Lewis and Clark comedy duo.

The years have rolled by and a TV network wants to put on a tribute to the golden age of entertainment. It will, naturally, feature the double act - the only problem is that the two old stagers aren’t speaking. They’re not even in spitting distance of each other.

The laughs start from the opening scene where Willie is found living among the past in a seedy hotel room surrounded by pictures of famous faces. He’s a has-been who refuses to accept that he’s past it and on the scrap heap. His well meaning nephew and agent, Ben, drops by each week with a copy of Variety to keep the old boy in the loop, and groceries but his increasingly reclusive and forgetful uncle seems to have lost the will to live. He can’t even make the effort to change out of his PJs.

There’s a bit of business with a malfunctioning TV and a running gag about opening the hotel room’s door which only prove that there really are legs in vintage comedy. Some of the jokes are Grade 2 listed but they’re still eye-wateringly funny.

Ben engineers a reunion, which isn’t without its hiccups, and it’s touch and go whether the two old comedians will get through the TV show without coming to blows.

While DeVito effortlessly slips into the role of a wise-cracking slapstick comedian his sparring partner, British stage and screen actor, Richard Griffiths, struggles with the American accent and getting around the set, seemingly out of breath when involved in physical gags.

He’s a superb straight man, which every good comedy duo needs, but, wisely, leaves it to the New Yorker to bring in the laughs - which don’t stop until the audience leave the theatre.

There’s great support from Adam Levy as an exasperated Ben and unforgetable cameos from Rebecca Blackstone as a doctor’s sexy assistant Miss MacKintosh and Johnnie Fiori as a nurse.

The Sunshine Boys runs until the end of July. Beg, borrow or steal tickets. Call 0844 871 7615 or go online www.atgtickets.com/london

ANNE COX