Review: Promises Promises, Southwark Playhouse

Promises Promises, is based on the Oscar winning Billy Wilder movie from 1960, The Apartment. In 1968 it received the Broadway treatment with Neil Simon writing the book and Burt Bacharach and Hal David adding in the songs. This is the first time in twenty years that Promises Promises has stepped onto a London stage and it seems unlikely that it will be back in a hurry.

Chuck Baxter, the protagonist, narrates the show. He is a junior accountant in an insurance company in New York, who tries to get a promotion by allowing the senior executives the use of his flat for their extramarital affairs. When the CEO, Sheldrake, seizes the opportunity to keep up his affair with Fran, the canteen girl whom Chuck has a major crush on, Chuck is heartbroken but this leads him to be less naive. When Fran has an accident, due to Sheldrake’s mistreatment of her, Chuck finally learns to stand up for himself.

The story is cute, to say the least, but there is nothing thrilling about the story or any of the songs. In fact, it seems odd that this production decides to leave out Bacharach’s ‘I’ll Say a Little Prayer’ – initially included for Kristin Chenoweth in the 2010 Broadway revival – for time.  It’s disappointing that such an iconic song is eliminated where plenty of scene change sequences could have been cut instead.

It’s hard to understand how anyone could not fall in love with Chuck. Although quite naive, he is charming, funny and by far the most entertaining character in the show. Played by Gabriel Vick, he expertly takes the audience through the story and every joke is precisely timed. He could have carried the whole show if it was a one-man performance.

Daisy Maywood plays Fran who is quite sweet and gentle but has a voice that leaves her audience transfixed. It’s just a shame that for her first big solo we were left was watching the back of her head.

However, despite only being a drunken-one-night-fling-waiting-to-happen, Marge, played by Alex Young, seems to be the favourite of Chuck’s female suitors with the audience. Together the drunken pair bring in most of the laughs and give us the biggest show-stopping number of the night, ‘A Fact Can be a Beautiful Thing”.

Unfortunately, for quite a fair share of the show, I found myself watching the backs of the actors’ heads or shifting awkwardly in my seat to see a blind spot, in some cases caused by the actors heading up the stairs and stopping right in front of us.

Chuck and Fran’s duet to, “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” is a rather sweet way to end the show, especially with Chuck accompanying on the guitar. It’s a cute way to end a cute show.

Promises Promises plays the Southwark Playhouse until February 18. 

Photo: Claire Bilyard