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California Suite

by on 23 February 2023

California Screamin’re

California Suite

by Neil Simon

OnBook Theatricals at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 25th February

Review by Heather Moulson

The glamourous Beverly Hills Hotel is the go-to for well-heeled visitors from all over the world.  In our visit we were greeted by a very busy late-seventies set.  Our hotel suite was a standard background for four vignettes of hotel guests sharing their lives and their traumas at different times in that same suite, the eponymous California Suite.  We knew to expect poignant and zippy humour from the master of wit, Neil Simon, so the bright campiness of the room only heightened the expectation.

Scene One introduced the guest from New York.  Emily Outred played Hannah Warren, who had invited former husband William Warren to the suite to talk frankly.  Marcello Walton, as William transformed beautifully into a true Californian resident, while Hannah firmly kept to her East Coast roots.  Their power game was well choreographed but, despite this, the piece was very wordy and on the static side, giving the impression of being overly long.  The couple put over the pain of their daughter’s turmoil clearly, but it did slow down the anticipation of what this suite could tell us.  (I shared their frustration of Room Service’s non-arrival.)

Scene Two, “Visitors from London” was made well-known Maggie Smith as the Academy Award winning prima donna actress in the film version.  Being a big fan of Issy van Randwyck for some years (Fascinating Aida) she came up trumps and covered this role with ease and humour.  Londoner Diana Nichols’ glamour and trappings and basic darkness worked very well against her handsome husband, Sidney, who also has a dark side. Sidney was played by Dominic McChesney, and, with their tangible chemistry, the two performers were highly watchable.  We sailed through Diana’s anxieties and Sidney’s patience with joy.

As a bright welcome back to the second half, Scene Three brought us visitors from Philadelphia, one of whom, the middle-aged businessman Marvin Michaels, has a very moral dilemma indeed.  Although Daniel Emilio Baldock was fiery and convincing, he was outshone by Elisabeth Yorke-Bolognini, as Millie, his (soon-to-be traumatised) wife, who was very natural with a flawless Philadelphia accent.  Her great stage presence brought empathy.  I was sorry to see Bunny, the girl in the bed, went uncredited, having to lay there in a drunken coma for the entire thirty minutes or so. 

Scene Four sees the arrival of four friends from Chicago, vacationing together – always a minefield.  Rosie Edwards was highly watchable with natural body language in her convincing performance as Beth Hollender, who had injured her foot in a tennis match.   However, Luke Mazzamuto, as the at-boiling-point Mort, held his frustration tautly.  Emily Outred made a second appearance as the ditzy wife Gert Franklyn and portrayed her lack of self-awareness and irritating personality very well.  Eoin Lynch played Stu Franklyn very much of the same mould.  Inevitably, a confrontation and climax came to light, and then accusations, leading to blows.

On high note, the lights went up … in a great explosive end to a great production of four entertaining playlets.

Despite the rickety hotel telephone, Ian Nicholas’ set, technical and costume design was a triumph. The lighting matched moods and human situations beautifully, and costumes were truly authentic, keeping us fittingly in that seventies era.

Director Jason Moore, who has an impressive background, kept up the pace and comic timing nicely.  Onbook Theatre is worth watching out for, with classy productions exemplified by this set of four mini sit-coms that comprise the California Suite

Heather Moulson, February 2023

Photography courtesy of The Dorchester Collection

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