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'Plaza Suite' review – Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick are a comic dream team

Read our four-star review of Neil Simon's play Plaza Suite, now in performances at the Savoy Theatre to 13 April.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

A real-life superstar couple has checked into the Savoy for this giddily joyful revival of Neil Simon’s 1968 Tony-nominated comedy. And just like that, Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker and husband Matthew Broderick are reprising their lead roles from John Benjamin Hickey’s hit Broadway production of Plaza Suite – and, given that this run has already extended, their London stay looks set to be just as successful.

Simon’s play is a triptych of short works, each featuring a couple staying in the same suite at New York’s Plaza Hotel – perfectly represented here by John Lee Beatty’s sumptuous, chintzy roccoco design. The first sees Karen Nash trying to reignite her marriage to Sam by revisiting their honeymoon suite on their anniversary.

In the second, movie producer Jesse Kiplinger reconnects with his childhood sweetheart, Muriel Tate. And the third sees Roy and Norma Hubley in a panic as daughter Mimsey locks herself in the bathroom on her wedding day.

The opening piece is the most plodding, playing out a familiar tale: workaholic, midlife-crisis husband who’s probably sleeping with his secretary; bored, empty-nester wife left feeling abandoned. But it’s given a lively spark by Parker, whose belated West End debut was well worth the wait.

There are definitely elements of her beloved Carrie Bradshaw in her characterisation here: the various neuroses, high-maintenance demands, flair for outlandish fashion (the vibrant period costumes are by Jane Greenwood), and those occasional departures from facts and logic which are either endearingly ditzy or irksome, depending on your taste.

But the biggest takeaway is just what a brilliant stage performer Parker is, whether landing a wry zinger with expert precision or letting loose in some fantastic physical comedy. She also lends real pathos to all three women, who, years before Carrie’s more liberated era, are often leading lives of quiet desperation, trapped and defined by unsatisfying marriages.

Parker immediately gets the audience onside as Karen goes to great lengths to set a romantic mood, only to be shot down by the infuriatingly pedantic Sam, who would rather fact-check her proposal than accept it, and who is entirely wrapped up in his own fears about ageing. Broderick is a natural at this deadpan peevishness, and their contrast in energy works nicely here.

But the latter pieces are where the show really hits its stride. His hapless producer trying to turn arch-seducer (while dressed like Austin Powers) is an absolute cracker, all the more so because his target is one step ahead of him. Parker is screamingly funny as the apparently innocent small-town housewife who’s actually turned on by his Hollywood connections – and who inhales vodka stingers.

The side-splitting climax sees the couple pleading with their daughter through the bathroom door as a very expensive wedding hangs in the balance, while bickering and blaming one another. There are injuries, ripped clothes, a near-death experience – and it all leaves the audience in fits of helpless laughter.

Much of this (including the vodka stingers) made me think of Sondheim’s contemporaneous Company, which similarly interrogates traditional marriage. However, Simon’s starkly binary views on gender seem more dated – men are money-obsessed, patronising, needy and buttoned-up; women are emotional, irrational and manipulative. Some lines jar, like Jesse referring to his three ex-wives as “bitches”.

Yet Parker and Broderick approach each character with heartfelt empathy, underlying the harsher moments with a melancholy wistfulness. They’re also clearly having such a ball doing this together that you can’t help but feel the same way. This is exactly the lavish comedy we need to lift our spirits, led by a starry dream team: a full-service romp.

Plaza Suite is at the Savoy Theatre through 13 April.

Photo credit: Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite (Photo by Joan Marcus)

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