It’s a little unnerving to settle down to review a show with very little prior information about a production or a programme to bring myself up to speed, but the small intimate performance space of Barton Peveril’s Rose Theatre is a good place to start; and thank you to SUPT for providing me with a cast list to help give credit where it’s due – and there is much credit to give!
London Suite is a quartet of half hour comedy playlets, which unfortunately on the first night was reduced to a trio due to cast sickness in one of the plays; my best wishes for a speedy recovery and hopes that the final evening’s production is up to full quota. The open plan London hotel suite accommodation, atmospherically lit and with pre-show music reminiscent of background music in a hotel bar (nice touch!), brings a warmth and good vibe atmosphere from the outset.
The first play, Settling Accounts, starts the evening with a punchy opener as hot-blooded Welshman Brian (Ben Constable), a washed-up writer, confronts his accountant Billy (Gavin Costigan) about his empty bank accounts. Although someone easily offended may take umbrage to liberal scatterings of F-words if not expecting them, they are in keeping with the emotional turmoil that Brian is embroiled in. Constable is very convincing: focused, committed, actively listening but with expressively deadpan sardonic humour, excellent facial expressions and dynamics. By contrast, but equally effective, Costigan portrays a colder, more calculating exterior, a fast-talking, fast-thinking unrepentant frenemy in what is a dark dramatic comedy.
Going Home is a much gentler situational comedy, where Lauren (Lisa Dunbar) manipulates that situation to get her widowed mother (Sarah Fergusson) to a first date with a potentially eligible bachelor. Fergusson is excellent as Mrs Semple, making her a very likeable and credible character; she has brilliant comic timing – knowing exactly how to time her pauses and interjections to perfection – and this is complimented by the responses of Dunbar as her daughter. With valiant if not faultless American accents, both share a compelling and believable rapport as mother and daughter, from the mother’s maternal protectiveness to the daughter’s rolling of the eyes, silently saying “Oh Mother!”.
The Man On The Floor is a fast-paced farce that concludes the evening with hilarious results that emerge from the confusion of incorrect room allocations, misplaced Wimbledon tickets, physical ailments and Kevin Costner lurking downstairs in the hotel lobby. Chris Aland (Mark) shows a great aptitude for comedy acting with his physicality and dialogue, whilst Elaine Harding’s feisty, sharp tongued, impeccably accented portrayal of his wife Annie left me in no doubt that this woman is not to be crossed! Paul Jones (Dr McMerlin) is excellent with both subtle and heightened comic physicality, and the timing of his dialogue delivery elicits many laugh out loud moments.
Mr Benseduto (Michele Zadra) brings the hotel manager’s character to life vividly with a portrayal not dissimilar to an Italian ‘Manuel’, nobly assisted by the Bellman (Jamie Lawrie); both also have little cameo roles resetting the set dressings between the plays, which not only gives a point of interest during these transitions but also reflects the link through the production of a snapshot of events in one hotel suite across various occupations. The close proximity of the audience to the performance space and its ‘thrust’ nature with the seats on three sides of this area gives the audience an additional ‘fly-on-the-wall’ perspective on proceedings.
It would be easy for three (and hopefully on Saturday night, four) plays to lead to a somewhat disjointed evening, especially as each playlet is directed by a different director. However, the skilful design and quality of the lights, sound effects and recordings, and consistent set appearance helps to provide a continuity from one to the other. In addition, first class direction by Stephen Fenerty (Settling Accounts), Alison Wells (Going Home) and Chris Hawley (The Man On The Floor), each ensuring that the pace is at just the right speed for the type of comedy involved, further links them all together into a cohesive and very enjoyable full company production.
The only real shame of tonight is the relatively low audience numbers; live theatre does need to be embraced to maintain its vitality and, on tonight’s evidence, SUPT deserves to thrive. With just one more chance to see London Suite on Saturday night, I would encourage local theatre-lovers to make the effort and head over to Eastleigh to get yourself a ticket; you won’t be disappointed.
Ends Saturday 19 October.