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Review: PROMISES, PROMISES, Southwark Playhouse

Opening Southwark Playhouse's 2017 season, following a seasonal run of Kiki's Delivery Service in The Large, is a revival of Neil Simon's musical Promises, Promises. Based on the Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond film The Apartment, it incorporates the music of Bacharach and David, including hits such as "I'll Never Fall In Love Again".

Chuck C. Baxter has been employed at the Consolidated Life Insurance Company for some time and has started to give up hope of ever getting a promotion - and with it access to the elusive Executive Dining Room. However, he accidentally becomes useful to a married senior colleague by virtue of his one-bed apartment on West 67th Street. Before long it's almost like he's a guest in his own home, but his co-operation eventually pays off. His love life even seems to be looking up! That is, until he discovers the identity of the man he's competing with for the object of his affection...

Bronagh Lagan utilises every possible space of the thrust stage - including the steps amongst the seating areas and a higher level platform above the main stage. In putting on this show, Lagan was inspired by film noir; this aesthetic really comes across in the design of the whole piece, from set to lighting and video projections. I would question the need for quite so much furniture in some scenes, as it leads to a few cumbersome transitions that interrupt the flow. Nevertheless, there is much to be admired about the ambition on show.

There's no doubt that this is a hard-working company; when the girls aren't being chased around by their bosses, they're an all-singing, all-dancing theatre machine. Alex Young puts in an hilarious second act turn as Marge, who enjoys an entertaining flirtation with Chuck - "A Fact Can Be A Beautiful Thing" definitely provides the biggest laughs of the night, from bar to bedroom. Daisy Maywood shines as Fran Kubilik, the apple of Chuck's eye. Her sweet and innocent appearance belies a woman in turmoil over her affair; Maywood's voice brims with emotion, bringing her heartache to life.

The star of the show is undeniably Gabriel Vick. He brings his own cheeky, irresistible charm to Chuck that has the audience rooting for him as soon as he makes his entrance - and a quirky sense of humour that works particularly well when he breaks the fourth wall. His musical credentials are first class, with a voice made for tunes such as these, and he even has a stint on acoustic guitar for "I'll Never Fall In Love Again". Vick is the consummate leading man; this is surely the first of many such stage roles for him.

On the face of it, Promises, Promises seems like it will be a whimsical romantic comedy, but rest assured that is not the case. Behind all the pre-feminism antics of the executives and their secretaries lies a dark centre, which takes the piece in an unexpected direction. But it's still an incredibly fun show that could easily be watched again and again - now that is a promise!

Promises, Promises is at the Southwark Playhouse until 18 February 2017

Picture credit: Claire Bilyard

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From This Author - Debbie Gilpin