Now playing at the Savoy Theatre with Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick
Despite a few po-faced reviews, Plaza Suite is a hoot. Georgia Lewis fights back with her Plaza Suite review. All photos Marc Brenner.
Theatre reviews can be a useful guide to spending your entertainment budget. Especially when ticket prices can set you back the equivalent of a weekend away in Paris. But a large grain of salt should be kept handy. This is the case with reviews of Plaza Suite, starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick. Who make the most of the chemistry and familiarity that comes with being married for 27 years.
The Daily Mail gave it a nostalgia-infused five stars, the Evening Standard gave it four stars and described it as “sensational”, while The Telegraph’s four-star review punnily opined that it “hits the suite spot.”
…they fizz with fun, physical comedy and farce…
But the Guardian’s Arifa Akbar gave it a miserable two stars, describing it as “dated”, and “flat and forgettable, not testing either actor’s seasoned skills on the boards.”
Never mind that Parker and Broderick are on stage for the entire three-vignette play, each playing three different roles. They alternate between comedy and tragedy for the first vignette that depicts a marriage where hitherto unspoken tensions bubble to the surface within an hour. Then they fizz with fun, physical comedy and farce amid assorted marital home truths for the second and third vignettes.
In his three-star review for Time Out, Andrzej Lukowski agrees that Plaza Suite is “dated”. And feels it would have been better if “a modern sensibility” was applied. Sam Marlowe for The Stage gives it two stars, declaring it a “mechanical museum piece”.
“Dated” is a weird description for a play written by a heterosexual man in 1968 about heterosexual relationships in 1968. And, frankly, there is nothing wrong with a period piece play shining a light on a bygone era.
Setting the scene; the first vignette
Of course, if it was written today, the luxury hotel room where all the action takes place would be sleek and minimalist with a Nespresso machine and Netflix on the telly. Instead, the set is a plush beige and gold Room 719 that would have represented the height of sophistication at the time.
The set provides a window on the play’s relationship stories. Hotel rooms are both intimate and impersonal. This is why the suite is the perfect backdrop to efficiently tell three very different stories. The slate is wiped clean for each new tale, as if room service has come by.
And if it was written today, there would probably be at least one same-sex relationship among the three mini-plays. Indeed, there is ample opportunity for an enterprising playwright to try their hand at a modernised adaptation. The trust issues of Sam and Karen Nash, the couple trying and failing to celebrate their 23rd (or possibly 24th…) anniversary in the first vignette, are not exclusive to straight couples.
In the second vignette…
Broderick plays thrice-divorced Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger meeting his high school sweetheart, Muriel Tate, who is now a star-struck New Jersey housewife. Parker definitely channels Carrie Bradshaw’s dippier moments for this one. Meanwhile, Broderick is a bitter Austin Powers – and possibly Ferris Bueller’s final form. Jesse and Muriel’s reunion keeps you guessing as to whether they will move from the suite’s living room to the bedroom. It is a light palate cleanser after the escalating seriousness of Sam and Karen’s arguments.
If Jesse and Muriel were gay high school sweethearts, that would certainly add a poignant twist to the lightest of the three stories. It’s easy to imagine them reuniting after a secretive teenage romance. Especially if it took place in less enlightened times – and it would be sadder still if, as adults, the characters were trapped in heterosexual marriages. Again, this is something an enterprising playwright could test at the keyboard.
Marianka Swain’s largely positive four-star review for London Theatre makes the curious criticism that Jesse referring to his ex-wives as “bitches” is jarring. No, it’s realistic. It’s not pleasant language, but it’s not even exclusive to 1968. You’d have to have led a pretty sheltered life if you’d never heard someone refer to their ex as a bitch. Or indeed a bastard. It’s how real people talk, whether it’s 1968 or 2024. If Jesse, a classic Hollywood arsehole, referred to his ex-wives as “horrid”, THAT would be jarring.
The third vignette…
Where high farce and physical comedy are ramped up to Mach 5, centres on Roy and Norma Hubley. A long-married couple desperately trying to coax their daughter Mimsey out of the bathroom on her wedding day. Anyone who has been involved in wedding dramas will relate. Especially if you have ever said, “Well, they’ll have to go through with it now. Too much money has been spent already!”
My imagined enterprising playwright might want to make the family non-white. Perhaps with a deft touch to avoid cheap stereotypes about weddings in different cultures. Or perhaps Mimsey has cold feet about marrying her bride, while the hapless Roy and the magnificently-hatted Norma are desperate to show the world how open-minded they are.
I would pay good money to see a modernised adaptation of Plaza Suite
But equally, on my visit, the diverse London audience related to the universal themes of distrust, jealousy, desperation, wondering what might have been, social climbing, uncertainty, temptation, and familiarity breeding contempt. Universality is why the plays of Shakespeare still resonate, whether performed traditionally or given modern updates.
Universality is why the plays of Shakespeare still resonate…
Above all, I recommend Parker and Broderick’s Plaza Suite because it is a lot of fun. Not everything needs to make a big political point. Their performances bounce around the stage like exuberant pinballs, the costumes and wigs are almost characters in their own right. And even if the beige and gold hotel room isn’t to your taste, you might just enjoy the two leads throwing themselves into their roles with the full force of their true star power.
At the end of the day, showbusiness is still a business. The proof of the pudding is in bums on seats – and Plaza Suite run has been extended. The people and their wallets have spoken.
In a career that has spanned Australia, the Middle East and the UK, Georgia has written about all sorts of things, including sex, cars, food, oil and gas, insurance, fashion, travel, workplace safety, health, religious affairs, glass and glazing… When she’s not writing words for fun and profit, she can usually be found with a glass of something French and red in her hand.
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