REVIEW: PROMISES, PROMISES (Southwark Playhouse) ★★★

After the success of Close To You some years back, it’s easy hear how timeless Burt Bacharach’s music can be put in any sort of context or arrangement, from full-blown out big band to a solo acoustic guitar. Promises, Promises at the Southwark Playhouse reminds you of this.

Based on the 1960 film The Apartment, we find Chuck Baxter (Gabriel Vick) crawling his way up the pecking order in an insurance company, with his promotions being traded in for high-end executives to use his apartment for romantic trysts. Think (a slightly amended) How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying but 30 minutes longer than it should be, for a plot line lacking in any sort of emotional depth.

The 1960s feel is apparent, with laid-back ‘cool’-esque jazz arrangements from the band, but so ‘laid back’ that the set becomes clunky, with transitions lasting too long and set pieces becoming stuck and not moving. But thankfully, our leads have enough charm to make us forget those flaws and bring out the simplistic endearing nature of Neil Simons’s book. Gabriel Vick is solid leading man material in any space, with enough likability, comic timing and a decent singing voice. You can’t really go wrong with him in that sort of a character, even if it becomes a bit over-the-top when performing his short monologues in scene transitions. Daisy Maywood as Fran, performs beautifully both vocally and visually. Some of her facial expressions are photogenic and her delicate vibrato, particularly in her stunning rendition of ‘A House Is Not a Home,’ sets the bar for the rest of the cast. Saying that, Alex Young as Margie is just the comic spike you need at the beginning of Act 2, with her brilliantly blunt timing and pace making her appearance one of the highlights throughout, considering the lack of time she has on stage.

The retro feel of the show and score can sometimes prove too relaxed. For a song such as ‘Turkey Lurkey’ to be considered low-key compared to the bigger emotional punch that, ‘A House Is Not a Home,’ and, ‘I’ll Never Fall in Love Again,’ have is surprising, and that might be because of how intimate they’ve made the space at the Southwark Playhouse for this. But something about the free choreography and little effort vocally from the ensemble, for that particular song, seemed so lacking. Paul Robinson is painful to watch at times, with dialogue being spoken incredibly fast-paced and his singing voice obviously trying to mimic Sinatra’s and failing. The chilled feel of the production came across as forced and excruciating at times through his performance.

Promises, Promises can be interpreted as dated at times, that’s for sure. But put in the right hands and voices and some well-led performances, it can prove to be delightfully dated when it comes to the Bacharach standards.

Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly
Photo: Claire Bilyard

PROMISES, PROMISES plays at Southwark Playhouse until 18 February 2017