Entering the small theatre at the OSO Arts Centre, you are immediately transported to California. The stage has been carefully and elaborately designed by Ian Nicholas to look like a Californian hotel room – as expected – with tropical wallpaper, bold colours and lavish textures. It’s exactly the setting Neil Simon describes at the beginning of the script and the perfect setting for the show. None of this space goes unused throughout the performance, as the platform with a bed in the background are all used to their full potential.
Within this hotel four scenarios are performed, each warranting a review of their own as four contrasting yet very entertaining chapters. First is the acrimonious divorced couple. It’s clear how much they’ve changed in the time they’ve been apart. Hannah (Emily Outred) is the career-driven mother. She twists the sarcastic, bitter role with a light juvenile element, hiding her patronising words behind a smile to make her insults even more cutting. Her opposition, the ex-husband with her as his soon to be third wife, is now in a tacky brightly coloured outfit and tan, nothing like the man she recognised in the past. On the night, the acting here was not as strong as in other parts of the production. Although entertaining, there were unnecessary pauses, or slightly hesitant movements, which were fortunately redeemed by a clever script.
The second couple are the strongest of the show. A slight switch in order of the script did not affect the narrative at all and the two immediately elicited laughs from the audience. Whilst also being a couple who have known each other for years, their witty banter has distinct fond undertones, rendering any insults entirely meaningless, as the deep love the two have for each other is clear. The energy is kept high throughout, and repeated jokes just keep getting funnier instead of losing their humour (read: her dress representing a ‘hump’). None of Simon’s carefully constructed lines become throwaway, and there’s some of the best and most enjoyable drunk acting I’ve ever seen. Seeing such a beautifully displayed friendship within a complex relationship is a refreshing change from the usual trope of the bitter marriage.
Next, Daniel Emilio Baldock as Mateo (originally Marvin) wakes up with a raging hangover to find a passed out woman – not his wife – in his bed. Baldock brings an amusing Italian twist to the character, flourishing the script, with the added panicked ramblings of the distressed husband trying to save his marriage. Similarly, his Italian-American devoted wife works well as his counterpart, bringing warmth. Their love for each other despite his betrayal shines through, with expressions of desperate ‘Amore mios’ and ‘per favores’ a lovely addition to the characters.
The final four are a brilliant conclusion to the show, again bringing energy and not letting the (tennis) ball drop. The disparity between the two couples’ relationships is immediately shown, their built-up resentment over their less than successful holiday unmistakeably illustrated. The audience can’t pick sides; each couple seem just as annoying as the other as they all play off each other’s energy, creating havoc in the final scene. The well-rehearsed fight makes all the characters equally as entertaining to watch as no one lets others take the spotlight. Simon’s hilarious writing ends the show with Stu (Eion Lynch) admitting he’d rather have crushed ribs than ever agree to another holiday. It’s the perfect finale to a funny and lively production.
Written by: Neil Simon
Directed by: Jason Moore
Set, costume and tech design by: Ian Nicholas
Produced by: Onbook Theatre
California Suite plays at OSO Arts Centre until 25 February. Further information about this and other Onbook Theatre productions can be found on their website here.