OMG, it’s SJP! However inured we become to celebrity, it’s thrilling to see Sarah Jessica Parker make her London theatre debut, showing off considerable comic chops and an easy onstage rapport with her husband Matthew Broderick.
The two play three differently fraught couples in the same upscale NY hotel room in Neil Simon’s easygoing 1968 comedy. John Benjamin Hickey’s Broadway production is like a vintage Rolls Royce: stately, old-fashioned, expensive. But it’s carrying two stars who can actually act.
Parker and Broderick met on stage and list their Broadway and off-Broadway credits far above Sex and the City and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in this show’s programme. Anyone hoping for Carrie Bradshaw-style swank and style will be disappointed in the slow-burning first story, where Parker plays Karen Nash, an upstate corporate wife in twin-set, dowdy wig, and copious hip padding.
Karen hopes a romantic wedding anniversary will drag her husband Sam’s attention back from work. Even though she’s not exactly sure of the date, year, or the suite number that witnessed their nuptials, her instinct that things are going wrong proves correct. The tone remains light and bantering, even when Karen is at her angriest or most heartbroken. Broderick interestingly plays Sam as a mild and distracted man rather than an arrogant blusterer.
In the second tale Broderick swaps his suit for a shaggy Austin Powers wig and specs while Parker rocks a Pucci-style minidress, black tights and ironed blonde locks under a headband. They’re high school sweethearts meeting after 17 years. He’s a hotshot, thrice divorced film producer. She stayed in New Jersey, married a schmuck and had three kids (“a boy and a girl. And another boy.”) The superb physical clowning here borders on commedia as he tries to consummate, and she tries unconvincingly to resist, the yearning they have for each other.
In the third they’re parents from Queens whose daughter locks herself in the suite’s bathroom on her wedding day because… well, she fears she’ll end up like them. There’s no vanity at all in the way they express this pair’s selfishness and rancour. Gleeful knockabout is paired with grotesque physical transformation: Parker looks like Grayson Perry’s alter ego, Broderick like one of Barry Humphries’ creations. Beneath the wry dialogue and physical comedy, all three stories are about loss and the savage march of time.
John Lee Beatty’s set is a clunky idea of five-star decor, the supporting cast almost unnoticeable and the whole thing occupies a very rarefied niche of New York society. But complaining that a Broadway show is “too New Yorky” is as pointless as whining about its high ticket prices in London. Plaza Suite is pretty much sold out because people will pay for sensational event theatre and the chance to see a star in the flesh, especially one this consistently fascinating. If you can afford it, Sarah Jessica Parker – with Broderick as Ken to her Barbie – is worth it.