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This London Suite should remain occupied for a long time

Review by David Munro

LONDON Suite consists of four playlets by Neil Simon, which take place in the same suite in a London Hotel. In the course of the evening, you get a thriller, a comedy, a drama, and a farce, which, together, add up to a feast of first-class theatre.

In the first, an author faces his embezzling accountant with a gun, in an attempt to discover where his millions have gone. The denouement is a good twist, which, for obvious reasons, I shall not reveal.

In the second, a daughter arranges a date for her widowed mother, who, after an evening of Hell, confesses to having a beau at home, a fact of which the daughter was tacitly aware.

In the third, and in many respects, the best piece of the evening, an aging soap star entertains her bisexual ex-husband, who has come to ask her for money to alleviate the final months of his lover’s life, who is dying of cancer.

The wife agrees only to discover it is, in fact, her husband who is dying and her unselfish generosity creates the rapprochement between them for which she had been hoping.

The final is the farce, which concludes any evening of Grand Guignol and portrays the problems encountered by a man who has an acute back problem, which results in his wife, a doctor, and the hotel porter all ending up incapacitated in some way.

If, like your reviewer, you suffer from a back problem, you may find it in questionable taste, but it is very funny and rounds off the series of episodes well.

All four are laced with the one-liners for which the author is noted and make a joyous and happy evening and one, which I would happily sit through again.

They are all played by a cast of four very accomplished actors, who differentiate between the various characters flawlessly.

The featured players, John Challis and Sue Holderness, bear the brunt of the evening, but they are ably supported by Sarah Crowe and Mark Curry, who manage to make believable characters from parts, which are basically designed to bolster the leads in the various comic situations in which they find themselves.

John Challis plays the embezzling accountant with just the right amount of bluster and fear, which make his attempts to extricate himself from an impossible situation all the more hilarious.

In the soap star episode, as Sue Holderness’ ex-husband, he manages to convey the pain and degradation of having to beg to his ex wife without losing the pride and dignity his gay life has given him.

His final appearance, as the elderly doctor, who succumbs to his patient’s complaint, was straightforward farce, and must have been a relief after his other, more taxing roles.

Su Holderness has two big chances, which she exploits gleefully. As the mother, who has spent an evening with a confirmed bachelor who wheezes and coughs to disguise the expletives in the play they had seen, she quietly describes the events clinically, and builds up, bit by bit, the most excruciatingly funny account of her evening from Hell.

As the Joan Collins-type soap star (she even dresses in a white suit), she portrays beautifully the artificiality of a stars life, which masks her regret at losing her husband.

The way she sheds her public image and emerges as an unselfish, generous woman, was a masterpiece of character playing, and invested the playlet with a reality and meaning that transcended the frivolous dialogue.

In the farce, she is the hotel manageress, who wants to get the suite back, as it is pre-booked, and who deals with each crisis with a bromidic utterance typical of the professional hotel servant.

Sara Crowe , whom I have seen in other similar parts where she played second fiddle to the star, shows yet again that, given the opportunity, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Her dutiful daughter, her stars’ devoted secretary, and the infuriated wife of the back case, are all nicely judged and, while they don’t detract from the leads, they certainly give strong support.

As does Mark Curry, whose exasperated and penniless author, is a gem of a character. His timing , as is that of all the others, is impeccable.

His other role is the back crippled man, and his frantic attempts to reach a ringing telephone, while prostrate on the floor, is farcical acting of the first order.

This was one of the most entertaining nights in the theatre I have spent for a long time, for which thanks must be given to the superb cast, and the excellently written parts they played.

If there is any justice in the World, this London Suite should remain occupied for a long time.

London Suite, by Neil Simon; Director, Mark Piper; Designer, Julie Godfrey; Lighting, Douglas Kuhrt; Sound, Rob Langley.
WITH: John Challis; Sue Holderness; Mark Curry; Sara Crowe; Charlie Buckland.
Richmond Theatre, The Little Green, Richmond, Surrey. Mon - Sat: June 7-12, 2004. Box Office: 020 8940 0088.

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