Lloyd Evans Lloyd Evans

Meandering, flat and witless: Plaza Suite, at the Savoy Theatre, reviewed

Plus: a strange and painful experience at the Southwark Playhouse

The stars of Plaza Suite, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, are married in real life – and it’s very obvious which of them is enjoying herself more. Credit: Marc Brenner

Plaza Suite is a sketch show by Neil Simon set in a luxury New York hotel in 1968. The play is rarely revived and it’s never been staged in the West End before. Simon’s idea (which Noël Coward accused him of stealing from his play Suite in Three Keys) is to place a trio of unrelated stories in the same hotel room. Simon struggles to find good endings for his set-ups and he keeps scribbling page after page of chit-chat in the hope of stumbling on a decent exit-line. He can’t do it. The dialogue sounds true to life but it’s also meandering, flat and witless – the sort of drivel you’d overhear in a vet’s waiting room. The hotel suite, designed by John Lee Beatty, is a sumptuous gold fantasy with flock wallpaper, sparkling chandeliers and a host of sidelights wearing little tasselled bonnets. In the 1960s, this gorgeous spread might have looked elegant and sophisticated but now it screams Trump Tower.

The first sketch is about Karen and Sam, a wealthy suburban couple, who bicker and fuss for ages as they settle into their room and prepare to celebrate an important wedding anniversary. Nothing is happening. Their aimless twaddle has no suspense or narrative direction, and the mood doesn’t change even when Sam’s hot young secretary shows up with news about Sam’s business. She orders him to abandon the dinner and come to the office to work late with her. Then she leaves. Sam tells Karen that he’s having an affair with the secretary and he begs Karen’s forgiveness. The play is already 45 minutes old and this is the first thing to happen on stage. Forty-five minutes! That’s nearly as long as it takes Keir Starmer to explain what a woman is.

In the closing moments, Karen makes a decision and the story ends on a poignant note of Chekhovian despair.

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