Review: Promises Promises, Southwark Playhouse

“That’s what you get for all your trouble”

On the face of it, you could see why reviving Promises Promises would be an appealing prospect – written by Neil Simon from a Billy Wilder film and featuring a score by Burt Bacharach and Hal David. But digging even just a little deeper – a running time of nearly 3 hours and an antiquated set of gender politics made it a tough one to watch, and an even tougher one to excuse in today’s society.

If you were so inclined, you could argue that Billy Wilder and I.A.L Diamond’s original screenplay for the 1960 film The Apartment is “a triumph of 1960s sexual work-place politics” but quite what that has to say to audiences today is very unclear, (apart from gentlemen d’un certain âge craving the good old days natch). I have liked much of director Bronagh Lagan’s previous work but I can’t help pondering the choice here.

The story revolves around Chuck, an ambitious New Yorker whose promotion prospects are closely aligned with the availability of his well-situated apartment as a shag-pad for his superiors to carry out their affairs and among them is his boss who just happens to be schtupping Fran, on whom Billy has a crush. But period misogyny is still misogyny and with paper-thin characterisation being the order of the day, there’s little to excuse what passes here.

We’re to root for the four guys who wonder ‘Where Can You Take a Girl?’ to cheat on their wives; we’re to put up with almost all the female characters being dismissed as ciphers with barely a word to say; and in the most egregious sequence, a woman takes an overdose because a lover leaves her, but can be cheered up, essentially, by being in a musical as her next would-be lover and a doctor sing and dance her emotional devastation away (apparently).

Gabriel Vick and Daisy Maywood at least connect well as Chuck and Fran, especially on a delicately moving duet on ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’, a rare highlight in an otherwise anodyne score. Lagan’s production just doesn’t do enough to point out how problematic this all is and in this day and age, I find it hard to swallow – there’s a reason women-led protests will be taking place across the globe on Saturday and it is because attitudes like these shown here are sadly not just a relic of the 60s, they’re pervasively real and present and to leave them unchallenged is something I cannot do.

Running time: 2 hours 50 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 18th February

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