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Plaza Suite: Theatre critics say Sarah Jessica Parker is a 'revelation'

Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite
Sarah Jessica Parker received a standing ovation at the show's gala night on Sunday

Theatre critics have largely praised Sarah Jessica Parker's performance in a new West End production, although some were less keen on the play itself.

The Sex and the City Star is starring opposite her husband Matthew Broderick in Neil Simon's 1968 play Plaza Suite.

The Telegraph said Parker supplied "terrific entertainment value" in its four-star review.

Speaking backstage, Parker said the themes of the three-act play about relationships are "universal".

Parker and Broderick play three different sets of couples, linked only by the fact that they all stay in suite 719 in New York's Plaza Hotel.

The first act examines a marriage in trouble, the second sees two childhood sweethearts reunite two decades after they separated, and the third sees two parents dealing with a daughter who has locked herself in the bathroom on her wedding day.

Asked why the play had endured for more than five decades, Parker told BBC News: "I think it's the portraits of these relationships which are not necessarily going to have to be familiar,

"There are these illustrations of affection, disappointment, whimsy, chaos, absurdity, that are just kind of universal. Even if it's not your generation or culturally what you connect to, I think Neil Simon is such a master, such a skilled writer that you don't have to know it to enjoy it."

Broderick added: "In a sentimental age, for most American stage actors, to get to work in the West End is a ball, it's very exciting for us."

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite
Husband-and-wife Parker and Broderick were each cheered by the audience when they first appeared on stage

There were many more stars in attendance on Sunday, with Bill Nighy, Hannah Waddingham, Ralph Fiennes, Sheridan Smith, Martin Freeman, David Tennant and James McAvoy all seen in the audience.

Much of the press coverage has focused on the ticket prices for the show, which is playing at the Savoy, with seats selling for up to £300 and packages including champagne and other extras for £395.

"While it might be a stretch to say she's worth every penny of the full price, she's terrific entertainment value," said the Telegraph's Dominic Cavendish. "Parker offers immaculate room service as she delivers polished rounds of rueful wisecracks."

The casting of the real-life married couple, Cavendish said, meant that "what the duo bring to the table as acting pros is augmented, in teasing theory, by a marital bond that goes back to 1997".

All three of the vignettes "have a deeply jaundiced view of male and particularly female behaviour beneath their smooth surfaces", noted Sarah Crompton of WhatsOnStage in a three-star review.

"Yet Parker's honesty, her vigour, and her pure gift for comedy both physical and verbal, disguise some of their obvious shortcomings. She's a revelation."

The Times' Clive Davis awarded the production four stars, writing: "Are the VIPs any good? The audience at the performance I saw had already made up its mind on that score, breaking into prolonged applause, Broadway-style, when they made their entrances in the first instalment."

He continued: "It's good to see Simon's name back in lights in the West End. Plaza Suite, which consists of three miniatures set in the same room of the landmark hotel, doesn't rank among his best work, but it still bears the stamp of a craftsman who knew all about the underrated art of making people laugh."

Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica Parker and John Benjamin Hickey attend the gala performance after party for "Plaza Suite" at The Savoy Hotel on January 28, 2024 in London, England
The show has been directed by John Benjamin Hickey - pictured (right) with Broderick and Parker

However, the Guardian's Arifa Akbar was less enthusiastic, describing the production as a "celebrity circus".

"Even costume changes get audience oohs and aahs," she noted. "It seems oddly disproportionate because, as exciting as it may be to see Sex and the City's Carrie Bradshaw on stage, the production is flat and forgettable, not testing either actor's seasoned skills on the boards (though this is Parker's debut in the West End).

"Under the direction of John Benjamin Hickey, it feels strangely like Parker and Broderick are saying lines rather than assuming roles... The production seems effectively to coast on the fame of its two stars.

She concluded: "What a low, lazy bar to set at such a high price (some premium "package" seats have reportedly sold for £395). Times are tough for the arts but commercial theatre can surely be braver than this."

There was a middling review from the Financial Times' Sarah Hemming, who said the main draw of the play was the "evident bond between Parker and Broderick as they play out multiple variations of marital misery".

"Parker, in particular, is a joy, bringing zest, precise detail and sharp comic timing to her characters," she said in her three-star review. "But it's not quite enough to blow the dust off the play and its creakily dated depiction of the sexes.

"More than 50 years on, the comedy has aged; each act, though short, feels overextended, while the scenes never really explore the loneliness and pain that can lurk beneath the comedy."

Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite
Some critics have baulked at the top ticket prices for the show - with some packages priced up to £395

Time Out's Andrzej Lukowski described it as "a dated production of a dated play" which "would almost certainly never have been revived were it not for the attachment of the two leads".

"Parker may not be the actress to find depth in this script, but she has an effervescent lightness of touch that leavens the stodginess of the writing - she is always watchable and winsome," he said.

In a four-star review, the Evening Standard Nick Curtis said: "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.

"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."

Adam Bloodworth of City AM expressed a similar sentiment, commenting: "You don't need a more intelligent reason to go to the theatre than to see your favourite celeb, and thank goodness these two explode with chemistry."

He described the show as "a joyous night at the theatre" in which "Sarah Jessica Parker reveals a talent for slapstick comedy that she kept quiet on Sex and the City".

'Affectionate' audiences

In another interview with BBC Radio 4's Front Row, the two actors said they were pleased to have received similarly warm responses from theatregoers in London.

Broderick said: "They've been really demonstrative, something has happened to Great Britain, [audiences] are no longer as reserved."

"I think we were prepared for them to be really good listeners, which they've proven to be," added Parker. "But they are equally affectionate, I think that's really buoyed us.

She continued: "I was really nervous because we'd had this experience in New York and you have a volume in your head, and you can adjust, and we were prepared to do so. But they've been such a good companion and partner for us."

Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite
Parker and Broderick said they had been buoyed by how affectionate West End audiences have been so far

Parker and Broderick are "certainly competent, with all the accomplished comic timing and cunningly deployed, tongue-in-cheek charm that their screen work promises," according to Sam Marlowe of the Stage.

"But there's a grating, over-deliberate quality here, every gag, tic, cocked eyebrow and wry intonation arriving bang on cue without the faintest scintilla of spontaneity. It's nowhere near enough to lend substance to Simon's overstretched writing."

Her two-star review concluded: "Everything unravels pretty much as you would expect, with tawdry infidelities, saucy indiscretions and artful zingers: it's a theatrical museum piece, barely in working order, dusty and decidedly creaky. Still, no one's really here for the play."

Fiona Mountford of iNews also awarded it just two stars, writing: "Unfortunately, an inert production manages to make both marriage and comedy appear a relentlessly joy-free trudge, despite the sparkling star wattage of real-life married couple Sarah Jessica Parker, making her West End debut, and Matthew Broderick.

"I could not wait to check out of Plaza Suite."

Plaza Suite runs at London's Savoy Theatre until 13 April. Listen to Parker and Broderick on Front Row on BBC Sounds.