London Suite

Written by Neil Simon

Thursday 24th April to Saturday 26th April and Wednesday 30th April to Saturday 3rd May 2014

Directed by Robin Hall and Paul Millington

AuthorNeil Simon

Neil Simon

Neil Simon is one of America's most popular playwrights and screenwriters. He has written over thirty plays and nearly the same number of movie screenplays, most adapted from his plays. He has received more Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.

He was born on July 4, 1927, in The Bronx, New York, to Jewish parents. His father, Irving Simon, was a garment salesman, and his mother, Mamie Simon, was mostly a homemaker. Simon had one older brother by eight years, Danny Simon. He grew up in Washington Heights, Manhattan during the period of the Great Depression, graduating from DeWitt Clinton High School when he was sixteen, where he was nicknamed 'Doc' and described as extremely shy in the school yearbook.

Simon's childhood was difficult and mostly unhappy due to his parents' "tempestuous marriage", and ongoing financial hardship caused by the Depression. His father often abandoned the family for months at a time, causing them further financial and emotional hardship. As a result, Simon and his brother Danny were sometimes forced to live with relatives, or else their parents took in boarders for some income. Simon recalls this period:

'The horror of those years was that I didn't come from one broken home but five. It got so bad at one point that we took in a couple of butchers who paid their rent in lamb chops. To this day I never really knew what the reason for all the fights and battles were about between my parents.... she'd hate him and be very angry, but he would come back and she would take him back. She really loved him.'

Simon points out that one of the reasons he became a writer was his need to be independent of such family concerns when growing up:

"It's partly why I became a writer, because I learned to fend for myself very early... I began to think early on, at the age of seven or eight, that I'd better start taking care of myself somehow, emotionally... It made me strong as an independent person."

In order to get away from difficulties at home he often took refuge in movie theatres, where he especially enjoyed comedies with silent stars like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy. Simon recalls:

"I was constantly being dragged out of movies for laughing too loud. I think part of what made me a comedy writer is the blocking out of some of the really ugly, painful things in my childhood and covering it up with a humorous attitude.... do something to laugh until I was able to forget what was hurting."

Simon attributes these childhood movies for inspiring him to write comedy:

"I wanted to make a whole audience fall onto the floor, writhing and laughing so hard that some of them pass out. Chaplin's ability to make people laugh was the only thing that I saw in the future for myself as a connection with people. I was never going to be an athlete or a doctor."

At the age of fifteen, Simon and his brother created a series of comedy sketches for employees at an annual department store event. During these high-school years, he also enjoyed reading humour by Mark Twain, Robert Benchley, George S. Kaufman and S. J. Perelman. He recalls:

"I read humourists... I read all the adventure stories... I was at the library three days a week as a kid. I read everything, I think, except the classics - which I'm going to get to one day."

After graduating high school he signed up with the Army Air Force Reserve at New York University, eventually being sent to Colorado as a corporal. It was during those years in the Reserve that Simon started writing, initially as a sports editor. He also began writing comedy scripts for radio and some popular early television shows. Among them were The Phil Silvers Show and Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows in 1950, where he worked alongside other young writers including Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks and Selma Diamond.

Soon he started to write his own plays beginning with Come Blow Your Horn (1961), which took him three years to complete and ran for 678 performances on Broadway. It was followed by two more successful plays, Barefoot in the Park (1963) and The Odd Couple (1965), for which he won a Tony Award, making him a national celebrity and "the hottest new playwright on Broadway." His style ranged from romantic comedy to farce to more serious dramatic comedy. Overall, he has garnered seventeen Tony nominations and won three. During one season, he had four successful plays showing on Broadway at the same time, and in 1983 became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre, the Neil Simon Theatre, named in his honour. During the time between the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, he wrote both original screenplays and stage plays, with some films actually based on his plays.

After winning the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1991 for Lost in Yonkers, critics began to take notice of the depths, complexity and issues of universal interest in his stories, which expressed serious concerns of most average people. His comedies were based around subjects such as marital conflict, infidelity, sibling rivalry, adolescence, and fear of aging. Most of his plays were also partly autobiographical, portraying his troubled childhood and different stages of his life, creating characters who were typically New Yorkers and often Jewish, like himself. Simon's facility with dialogue gives his stories a rare blend of realism, humour and seriousness which audiences find easy to identify with.

Simon has been married five times: to dancer Joan Baim (1953-1973), actress Marsha Mason (1973-1981), twice to Diane Lander (1987-1988 and 1990-1998), and currently actress Elaine Joyce. He is the father of Nancy and Ellen, from his first marriage, and Bryn, Lander's daughter from a previous relationship, whom he adopted.

PlayLondon Suite

America's premier comic playwright gives you 4 hilarious one-act comedies, all set in the same suite of a deluxe London hotel... a sedate place until these characters check in!

Settling Accounts: BRIAN is a successful writer; BILLY is his manager and handles his money. After taking little interest in what happens to his money for some years, Brian has discovered all is not as it should be and confronts Billy face to face.

Going Home: LAUREN and her mother SHERYL are in London shopping. Lauren is attempting to persuade Sheryl to spend their last night in Europe on a date with an English gentleman with whom they have struck up an acquaintance.

Diana and Sidney: DIANA is a successful TV actress, on a promotional tour of Europe to promote a hit series in which she is starring. While in London, she meets with SIDNEY, her ex-husband, who lives on Mykonos (a Greek island) with a younger man. Sidney has come to ask her for money, and although it is some time since they were married, there remains a good deal of affection between them.

The Man on the Floor: MARK and ANNIE are in London to go to Wimbledon, but cannot find their precious tickets. Things go from bad to worse when Mark's back seizes up and he is immobilised, only for the hotel's Associate Manager to arrive to inform them they have been given the wrong suite, and must move to make way for Kevin Costner.

The Bench Production

London Suite Poster Image

This play was staged at The Spring Arts and Heritage Centre (formerly Havant Arts Centre), East Street Havant - Bench Theatre's home since 1977.


Settling Accounts:

BrianDavid Penrose
BillyMark Wakeman

Going Home:

SherylSue Dawes
LaurenLiz Brown

Diana and Sidney:

GraceSophie Hoolihan
DianaSarah Parnell
SidneyTerry Smyth

The Man on the Floor:

MarkChris Vanstone
AnnieJo Langfield
Mrs SitgoodSarah Parnell
BellmanStuart Reilly
Dr McMerlinJaspar Utley
Pilot (voice)John Ash


Directors Robin Hall and Paul Millington
Producers Robin Hall and Paul Millington
Stage Manager Stuart Reilly
Assistant Stage Managers The Cast
Lighting Design Jessi Wilson
Sound Design Sarah Parnell
Lighting Operation Jessi Wilson
Sound Operation Roger Wallsgrove
Set Design Thomas Hall
Programme Editor Derek Callam
Photography Dan Finch

Director's Notes

It's been a while since either of us directed anything, and we'd been toying with various ideas for some time, including the possibility of putting on a show together, having done so previously with 'The Vagina Monologues'. The Bench is a director-led company and directors are usually inspired by plays - and it took a while for the right play to come along. Fortunately, London Suite is a really good play, crafted by a talented writer. It is interesting, thought-provoking, touching and (best of all) made us laugh, with the added bonus that it could easily be split between two directors. We pitched it to the company and found they agreed with us that it would be a great show to offer our audience.

Something this well written is relatively easy to turn into a show, especially when you have managed to get a good team of people together. As so often happens, there are a lot of people within the company who have helped to make everything happen, particularly on the less glamorous side of theatre from putting the programme together to coming up with a design to realise the interior of a luxury hotel suite on what is a relatively small stage... not to mention turning up at 8am on Easter Sunday to build the thing. Many thanks to all of them!

Our enthusiasm for the piece has endured the process of pitching, rehearsing and staging the play, and this is in no small part due to the dedication, hard work and goodwill of the actors who have brought the characters to life. Although the pieces are not long, the characters and their situations are often complex and it has taken a good deal of thought, effort and energy to make them believable and likeable. Keeping the humanity of the people, the humour of the writing and a consistent 'vibe' to the whole play has not been easy, and we know we have been pretty demanding over the last few months. All we can say in our defence is that we believe what you see on the stage is absolutely worth it, and we hope it delights, entertains, inspires and engages you as much as it has us.

So again, a warm welcome to London Suite ... we hope you enjoy your stay!

Robin Hall and Paul Millington (Co-Directors)

PS: London Suite was written in 1996, and set in what was then the present day. The world hasn't changed much since, but no doubt the stories here would unfold a little differently today, not least because mobile phones would be a lot more readily available now than they were 18 years ago.


Remote GoatJill Lawrie

Entertaining collection of four stories

The acclaimed Bench Theatre are currently performing American playwright Neil Simon's amusing "London Suite". A foursome of one act plays each set in a luxury hotel suite. The four sets of characters straddle Simon's familiar themes of love, fidelity, loss and betrayal.

The opening act was a two-hander "Settling Accounts" starring Bench stalwarts David Penrose (Brian) and Mark Wakeman (Billy). Billy has managed the financial affairs for some years for his friend Brian, a successful writer, but all is not as it should be. Brian threatens his 'grand master of finance' who feeds him a catalogue of questionable decisions leading to Brian's admission that he now retrospectively hates his overseer. A female duo conclude the first half of the evening with "Going Home". Mother and daughter are spending their last night in London and daughter Lauren is desperate to encourage her mother to start dating again. Sue Dawes (Sheryl) gives a highly entertaining account of her disastrous date and a strong performance too from Liz Brown (Lauren) playing her empathetic daughter.

The second half begins with "Diana and Sidney". She is a successful TV actress on a promotional tour, meeting up with her ex husband who now lives with a younger man on a Greek island. His purpose for the rendezvous is to ask for money whereas she on the other hand still has strong feelings for him and is hoping for a rekindling of their affections. Sarah Parnell is eminently watchable and excels as the affluent glamorous Diana. The final act is "The Man on the Floor" a comical farce based around Mark and Annie's lost Wimbledon tickets. A standout performance from Jo Langfield as volatile and vocal Annie with fine support from Chris Vanstone the hapless (Mark) and Jaspar Utley (Dr McMerlin).

The writer's skill coupled with accomplished direction from the partnership of Robin Hall and Paul Millington vividly captured the character's emotional engagement. A fresh and imaginative production of these engrossing tales and immensely enjoyed as usual by a near capacity audience.

Production Photographs