Promises Promises, based on a screenplay by Neil Simon with music by Burt Bacharach along with a book by Billy Wilder and I A L Diamond, not to mention lyrics by the renowned Hal David, and jingle like melodies, one would have thought this might be a sure fired hit, sadly not. However, this is not due to the talented cast but simply down to the passage of time. Conducted by the Musical Director, (Joe Louis Robinson) the piece had a great feel of the period with accompaniment highlighted and coloured much of the vocal deliveries
I should say I am new to the piece and much as there are some slick one-liners, smart lyrics and recognizable vocal arrangements with its sixties melodies, as well as cool controlled backup vocals, the nature of the piece had an unfortunate lack of appeal. True, love wins through in the end but it is set against a backdrop of pimping a room out to facilitate the adulterous assignations of lascivious, over-bearing middle aged men exploiting their position, their women and two suicidal people, all of which is a bit baffling.
Chuck may describe his workers as ‘loyal and resourceful’ but it seems to be more deceitful and coercive. As a snapshot of 60s society it makes 1962 a place that seems morally corrupt and ignorant of the needs of others. There is a hint of the ‘Mad Men’ world here but with more substance than style – and that, for me, is part of the problem with this dated piece – nothing is explored. It presents the emotional trials and tribulations of the swinging sixties, showing its intelligence as it plays with sex in the work place. At times, unappealing and at others a period curiosity, it feels simply as though the piece has suffered form the vagaries of time, though handled with care by director, Bronagh Lagan.
This award winning musical comes to the Southwark Playhouse for the first capital revival in half a century – decked with an interesting performance area with sets and costumes detailed delightfully by Simon Wells. Colour, design, props, costume and the set are all particularly effective, with an arty style range of screens hovering above the acting area showing a range of slides which help contextual the performance space. Directed with pace and wit by Lagan, the piece is lively in places, with a balanced sound between vocals and accompaniment. The music was impressive when the vocals were soft and coaxing on the ear, allowing for the clever arrangements and harmonies to be fully exploited. Particularly engaging was the rendition of ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again’ with quiet vocals and acoustic guitar – more of this laid back delivery would have enhanced the piece.
Performances were slick but at times diction was poor and the delivery was muffled. Chuck, our put-upon dope, played by a nonchalant Gabriel Vick, chases and manoeuvres his way into the heart of the unhappy Pam, played with intensity by Daisy Maywood. Entertaining support was provided by John Gurerssio and Alex Young as the doctor and Moll. But no matter how keen the performances were, the musical was ultimately overshadowed by the sheer ‘Trump’-like feel of the whole piece – bold and galling yet confident and brash – ah, the swinging sixties, all lights yet little substance.