Pros: A sharp, crisp production capturing the essence of Neil Simon’s work.
Cons: The stripped down, condensed performance feels slightly rushed.
The St James Theatre in Victoria boasts a thriving lunch theatre concept thanks to a succession of quality productions. The Butterfly Theatre Company keeps the run going with their interpretation of Neil Simon’s California Suite. The four-part play breaks down easily into separate components that each fit the lunchtime slot perfectly.
Part One deals with two couples who, at different points in time, occupied Suite 203. Hannah, a magazine writer from New York has agreed to meet with her ex-husband Billy, a successful screenwriter. Their aim is to reach an agreement on where their daughter Jenny should spend the next six months. The discussion quickly devolves into a post mortem of their relationship, a bitter blame-game with Jenny as the prize.
After the emotional turmoil, the mood with lightens somewhat with couple number two. Marvin wakes up with the grandmother of all hangovers. A prostitute called Bunny is sleeping soundly beside him, still overcome by the effects of several bottles of wine the night before. Marvin’s wife Millie has just arrived from Philadelphia for a family bar mitzvah, and is on her way up to Suite 203. Marvin gamely tries to hide all traces of his indiscretion while at the same time trying to divert, cajole and assure Millie that everything is just fine.
As you’d expect from a Neil Simon play, the script sparkles like a diamond in the sun and needs little in the way of props. The verbal interplay between Hannah and Billy is lively, funny and energetic, but doesn’t lack pathos either. There is sadness about their break-up, but the ex-lovers are also quick to find all the wrong buttons to push as they enthusiastically bait each other. The comic relief is provided by Marvin and Millie, whose story ventures into the realms of proper farce. Unlike traditional farce though, the scene doesn’t simply rely on slapstick and a dude trying to avoid being caught in flagrante delicto. Instead it’s peppered with great comic observations about manners and emotional trade-offs made in the heat of the moment. My only problem with the production would be the condensed text; of course, a lunch performance has its time limits, but it did make the play occasionally feel rushed.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show, but it does feel like this is just an appetiser; I’m already looking forward to Part Two.
Author: Neil Simon
Producer: Butterfly Theatre Company
Box Office: 0844 264 2140
Booking Link: www.stjamestheatre.co.uk/events/california-suite-part-1/
Booking Until: 6 June 2014