Plaza Suite just swept into town headlined by Hollywood couple Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, but the actual headlines have been blaring that this is the most expensive show in London history, with top-price seats fetching an eye-watering 395 smackeroos.
Our own thespian royalty were out in force for Sunday’s opening gala, from David Tennant, Hannah Waddingham, Sheridan Smith and Jeremy Irons, to Russel Tovey, Bill Nighy, James McAvoy and Dame Harriet Walter.
Laughs rang out throughout the performance, followed by a heartfelt standing ovation, to which Parker giddily waved back, girlishly crouching down as the curtain lowered. But is it really worth all the hype?
The big gimmick is that the married couple play three different pairs across separate stories set in the same Suite 719 in New York’s Plaza Hotel. The first, and by far longest act, Visitor From Mamaroneck, introduces Sam and Karen Nash.
Far from Carrie Bradshaw, Parker brings a real pathos to a matronly woman trying to revive her marriage by booking their wedding night rooms for their 24th anniversary in the face of her husband’s growing indifference. Except he points out it’s the wrong floor and actually their 23rd. He’s also far more interested, it transpires, in leaving to ‘work’ late with his hot young secretary.
Simon excels at repartee and snappy one-liners. There’s also subtle physical comedy from Broderick, muting his natural charisma. But the playwright’s women from this era are relentlessly ridiculous, foolish and insubstantial. It’s a credit to the leads’ chemistry and class that they breathe any life into an increasingly unpleasant situation, although their palpable affection also dilutes its bitter core.
The scene ultimately repetitiously circles without landing and begins to drag, although Parker and Broderick also make it the most convincing of the three.
Act 2, Visitor from Hollywood, is even more of its time, channelling the era’s craze for sex farces as high school sweethearts, sleazy movie producer Jesse Kiplinger and wide-eyed married New Jersey housewife Muriel Tate, are reunited after 17 years.
It’s pure Austin Powers, complete with wonderful wigs and costumes, and plenty of merry mugging from both actors. He repeatedly attempts seduction and she pretends innocence but is eagerly swayed into bed by tales of famous names and glitzy parties.
Parker and Broderick throw themselves into the roles, with exaggerated physical and vocal tics playing to the gallery. The laughter flows but it’s also ridiculous and rather uncomfortable when viewed with modern eyes.
Where Austin Powers mercilessly skewered misogyny, this at best gives Muriel some agency in her actions, but also demeans her as she rather blithely betrays her family. Another of Simon’s bird-brained woman, when asked about her three kids she blankly declares, “one’s a girl and one’s a boy” as infidelity and shades of MeToo are played for giggles.
Straight from Austin Powers to Benny Hill in the final act, Visitor from Forest Hills, as middle-aged Roy and Norma Hubley try to force daughter Mimsey out of her locked bathroom on her wedding day.
Where Parker shines in Act 1, this time Broderick has the meatier part as his increasingly frantic but ineffective buffoon cartoonishly charges the door and then has a hilarious outing onto the window ledge, besieged by belligerent pigeons and lashing rain.
The unfettered physical comedy from both works a treat and they are clearly having a blast. Yet, the scene ultimately boils down to Mimsey being terrified her marriage will end up like that of her ridiculous but devoted, loving parents, who are the undeserving butt of the joke.
Across all three acts, Simon seems to like relationships little and women even less. There’s an underlying belittling meanness to his portrayal of people in suburban or traditional lives and relationships. Even though I chuckled throughout, the more I thought about it all afterwards, the less funny I found it.
SJP fans, of course, will happily fork out to see their idol in the flesh and she makes a confident, accomplished West End debut. I’d rather see what she can do next time with more substantial material.
Plaza Suite is at the Savoy Theatre to April 13