SIDMOUTH – SIDMOUTH SUMMER PLAY FESTIVAL
MANOR PAVILION THEATRE
CALIFORNIA SUITE by Neil Simon
2 hours 15 minutes – 1 interval
Manor Pavilion Theatre Box Office – 01395 514413
REVIEW – CORMAC RICHARDS – 12 AUGUST 2021
Neil Simon’s writing is characterised by rapier-sharp wordplay, imperfect people, marriage and that bitter-sweet tone which he made his own. ‘California Suite’ was written in 1976 and was made into a very successful film in 1978. The format of the play is a repeat of Simon’s previous success with ‘Plaza Suite’ – three unconnected stories set in a hotel in New York. Here we are on the East coast with four stories.
‘Visitor From New York’ tells of a formerly married couple re-uniting after 9 years to discuss custody of their daughter. This is the most serious – and probably the most tricky – of the four episodes; a jousting match between the Hannah and Billy – her, bitter and resentful and him, content and happy with the new life he has made. It is more sad than funny. Claire Louise Amias gives Hannah great poise who cuts with her tongue – you can see her visibly wilt as she caves in. Meanwhile, despite the smile and easy-going manner you can see the pain of the circumstances in Richard Stemp’s Billy.
‘Visitor From Philidelphia’ is a very different affair. Marvin Michaels wakes up to find a young woman in bed with him. He doesn’t know her. He is very hungover. His wife is about to arrive at the hotel room. Push the Go button for chaos as he tries to prevent his wife uncovering his misdemeanour. Cue one of the funniest pieces of acting I have seen in a long time. Dan March throws himself into the role of Marvin; his full-blooded performance is so energetic, visually and vocally hilarious that at times you might think he is about to do himself an injury. I was reminded of Cary Grant in the film of ‘Arsenic & Old Lace’ when his character discovers various dead bodies – full of double-takes and reaction. It is a brilliant performance. Julia Main gives a wonderful whining voice to the wronged wife, Millie – it’s an excellent partnership. As the comatose young woman, Lisa Lamerica, fulfils the role perfectly.
‘Visitors From London’ gives us Diana and Sidney – she, an actor, attending the Academy Awards as a nominee and he, an antiques dealer with an eye for good-looking young men. This is a very funny look at a couple who have huge love for each other, but a love which is tempered by his sexual preferences. Claire Louise Amias brings out all the humour in Diana and the mass of insecurities she has in herself and her life. Richard Stemp is the more satisfied and content husband, still loving his wife, but needy for other excitement. Perfectly complimentary performances.
‘Visitors From Chicago’ provides us with the final piece; two couples, best friends, who are having the worst possible holiday. Arguments and resentment have built up and exploded on the tennis court. As the couples arrive in their hotel room all hell breaks loose as disagreements bubble over to produce a farce of accidents and fights. This is brilliant stuff. Dan March and Julia Main as Mort and Beth definitely have it in for Richard Stemp and Claire Louise Amias as Stu and Gert – the quartet throw themselves (almost literally) into this excellently choreographed conclusion to the play. It is short, sharp and very, very funny.
I love a set with lots of doors – this one has five doors and a pair of French windows – a huge achievement on a small stage. As with many Andrew Beckett’s designs, it is well appointed and, despite being two rooms, still seems very spacious.
From the quite beginning of the play to the concluding mayhem, the hand of the director is very clear to see. Tempting though it might have been to rush through the first segment, it is treated with the care it deserves, allowing Simon’s wonderful wit and banter to shine through. The spot-on staging of the finale shows a skill at creating the visual as well as the aural. This is direction of great accomplishment, all the more reason then to praise Anton Tweedale on this, his debut in the hot seat.
‘California Suite’ has far more to it than meets the eye. It is full of depth and pathos of chuckles and full-bellied laughs. It is subtle and obvious. It is mean and tender. In this production it is a theatrical smorgasbord and one which I would happily feed off again. This is acting of the highest standard and a production which will stand out for many years to come.
CLAIRE LOUISE AMIAS – HANNAH WARREN, DIANA NICHOLLS, GERT FRANKLYN
JULIA MAIN – MILLIE MICHAELS, BETH HOLLANDER
RICHARD STEMP – WILLIAM WARREN, SIDNEY NICHOLLS, STU FRANKLYN
DAN MARCH – MARVIN MICHAELS, MORT HOLLANDER
BUNNY – LISA LAMERICA
WRITER – NEIL SIMON
DIRECTOR – ANTON TWEEDALE
DESIGN – ANDREW BECKETT
LIGHTING & SOUND OPERATION & DESIGN – STAGE TECHNICAL SERVICES LTD.
COSTUME SUPERVISOR – JANET HUCKLE
SEASON PRODUCER – PAUL TAYLOR-MILLS