Southwark Playhouse, London
Based on book by Neil Simon and screenplay The Apartment by Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond
Music by Burt Bacharach and lyrics by Hal David
Director: Bronagh Lagan
Producer: Aria Entertainment and Senbla
Cast includes: Craig Armstrong, Ralph Bogard, Martin Dickinson, Claire Doyle, John Guerrasio, Daisy Maywood, Natalie Moore-Williams, Lee Ormsby, Paul Robinson, Emily Squibb, Gabriel Vick, Alex Young
Dates of run: Until Feb. 18
Running time: two hours 55 minutes, including interval
Even in times when rehash is more common than originality, the risk with a revival of Burt Bacharach’s late 1960s musical Promises, Promises, in turn based on Billy Wilder’s 1960 film The Apartment, is that it feels doubly derivative.
We duly spend a long first half fighting the nagging feeling it’s an adaptation too far and being more prone to ironic comparisons with our own age than surrendering to the retro joy of escape to a more innocent one.
But an hour and a half in, we’re rewarded with a second half that springs to life.
The groan-worthy jokes are replaced with laugh-out-loud funny and Alex Young as a fun-loving Marge jolts the protagonist Chuck Baxter (Gabriel Vick) out of his love-lorn mope.
The real bonus is that the hilarious pair leads us at last into the apartment we have been longing to see and the intimacy of a small-scale theatre begins to pay off.
Once inside, the comic confusion and coincidences of the plot also fall into place, justifying the decision for a theatrical version of a film, and on an emotional level, Chuck and his amour Fran, played by Daisy Maywood, are finally alone together.
One of the production’s strengths is that it was obvious from the very first crowd scene, they are destined for each other, as the future lovers – who bear more than passing resemblances to Jack Lemmon and Shirley MacLaine of the 1960 film – are jostled by their rough, over-sexed colleagues while they desperately seek monogamy.
Fran’s big distraction is Sheldrake, played by a suave Paul Robinson. He has a mischievous twinkle in his eye and the self-entitled determination of a big boss.
But ultimately he is no match for a Chuck playing gin rummy and an acoustic guitar with more direct emotional appeal than the band of musicians who overwhelm the studio space.
Throughout, Simon Wells’ set, with its cinematic frame, reminds us of all the layers of allusion and emotions gone by and it seals the latest pairing in satisfying Hollywood style with a big neon “The End”.
Barbara Lewis © 2017.