Savoy Theatre | ★★★★✩
Reviewed by John Nathan
For those who remember the 1971 movie, Walter Matthau haunts this revival of Neil Simon’s trilogy. Simon’s central conceit for his 1968 play was to set three unconnected acts in the same hotel suite.
The film took this idea and then cast Matthau as all three very different men, starting with the emotionally distant Sam Nash, whose wife suspects he is having an affair, then to the needy Hollywood producer Jesse Kiplinger, who has invited an old flame up to his suite in the hope of reigniting past passions, and finally to Roy Hubley, the enraged father of a bride who has locked herself in the bathroom while the wedding guests wait downstairs for the nuptials to begin.
But for most, even Matthau’s ghost will not prevent a rush of joy mixed with nostalgia for this return of Simon’s all-too-rarely revived voice.
The King of Broadway, as he was once known, fell out of fashion years ago and it has taken the starriest of husband- and-wife teams, Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick, to bring him back to the West End.
They play all six main protagonists in John Benjamin Hickey’s terrific production.
The set itself is the other star of this show, which received a mixed reception in New York. Designed by John Lee Beatty, the plush-panelled interior has a warm, faded grandeur that you only get in classic hotels.
Broderick has plenty of form when it comes to Jewish stage comedy, among them Simon’s The Odd Couple and Mel Brooks’s The Producers.
Here he replaces Matthau’s repressed rage with an even-tempered delivery that transmits a simmering annoyance beneath the calm. If Simon had written slasher movies Broderick rather than Matthau would be my prefered choice.
However, the revelation here is Parker, best known as Carrie from Sex in the City. It is her range that stands out.
There is a dignified tragedy to her numerically challenged Karen, who has booked suite 719 to commemorate the honeymoon she and Sam spent there 24 years earlier. Twenty-three, corrects her husband. And it was 819, he later heartlessly adds.
As the object of Hollywood producer Kiplinger’s desire, Parker’s Muriel is as tense as a wren and she brings a very funny, world-weary resignation to her Norma, the mother of that bathroom-barricaded bride.
Ticket prices that run into the hundreds make this a difficult show to recommend unreservedly.
Yet for lovers of Simon it is an unmissable reminder that the playwright who is celebrated for his eternal one-liners was also a master at creating the perfectly-formed play.