Southwark Playhouse is known for its musicals, and Promises, Promises, with music by Burt Bacharach, lyrics by Hal David and a book by Neil Simon, is the latest production. The 1968 musical, based on the 1960 Billy Wilder film The Apartment, is the story of CC Baxter (Chuck), a lowly office worker who realises he can win promotion by allowing senior executives at his company to use his apartment for their liaisons with young women. He manages to overlook the moral questions this raises, but has second thoughts when he realises that the woman his boss is seeing is Fran, the woman he himself loves.
The show has two main flaws. One is the length: at nearly three hours it is far too long considering the flimsiness of the storyline. It seemed quite slow in places and I’m sure it could have been cut. The other is the dated attitude which pervades the piece and seems particularly galling to a modern audience: women are frequently seen as possessions, and the response to a big event which occurs towards the end of the show – featuring the song ‘A Young Pretty Girl Like You’ – seems especially inappropriate. Having said that, the production (with effective, if wobbly, sets, and strong costumes) is set so firmly in its time that I found I could accept the old-fashioned attitudes in terms of the context of the period.
The strengths of Promises, Promises are the music and the cast. I can’t claim to be a Bacharach fan, but I enjoyed the score, particularly the Act II highlight ‘I’ll Never Fall In Love Again’. Gabriel Vick is an appealing and charismatic leading man, charmingly relatable in his asides to the audience and possessed of a strong singing voice. As his love interest Fran, Daisy Maywood is easily his equal, and I adored her singing. John Guerrasio also does a good comic turn as the doctor who lives next door to Chuck.
Overall, Promises, Promises might not be the best thing to set the Southwark Playhouse’s stage alight, but it’s certainly enjoyable enough.