Billy Wilder’s 1955 screen adaptation of George Axelrod’s play, The Seven Year Itch, is responsible perhaps for one of the most iconic images in 20th Century popular culture – ‘that’ image of Marilyn Monroe posing over a New York subway grate – with white dress in full sail. Otherwise, the movie was a rather undemanding romantic comedy, and a much sanitised version of a play that had wowed Broadway audiences 3 years earlier.
Thankfully the 2012 stage revival, now playing at the Salisbury Playhouse, returns to the source material and presents the sophisticated, grown-up comedy of human frailty that the author intended. Poor, up-til-now faithful Richard Sherman is left alone to sweat out the hot summer in his New York City apartment, when wife of seven years Helen takes their son off to the country for the season. It is not long before Richard embraces his newfound bachelor existence, succumbing to the allure of cigarettes and strong liquor, but also to his vivid imagination: what if he was a great womaniser and had girls falling at his feet? When he catches sight on the stairs of the new, unconventional, free-spirited girl that has moved in upstairs, the temptation to scratch that seven year itch becomes too much to bear.
Gyuri Sorossy, most recently seen at the Playhouse in Noel Coward’s Design for Living, plays the inconstant Richard with great energy, being the one character on stage throughout the entire play. He perfectly captures Richard’s emotional rollercoaster as he struggles with temptation, really coming into his own when descending into almost hysterical guilt once the ‘deed is done’. Verity Rushworth plays the object(s) of his affections in a number of fantasy sequences with style and good humour, and as ‘the girl from upstairs’ presents an empowered and self-possessed contrast to the Marilyn Monroe interpretation of the same role.
There are a couple of delightful scene stealing cameos from Gerard Murphy (as Dr Brubaker) and solid work too from Salisbury’s own Hattie Ladbury (as wife Helen) and Michael Stevenson (Tom MacKenzie).
As is the signature of in-house productions at the Playhouse, the set is stunning, and elicits spontaneous applause from the audience when revealed at the beginning of the evening. Designed by James Cotterill with enormous attention to detail, no expense seems to have been spared in creating an elaborate and elegant apartment. My only criticism being that vastness of the setting does not quite match the more human scale of the narrative and runs the risk of dwarfing the action on the stage. However, Blanche McIntyre’s witty and imaginative direction makes full use of the space, and with the clever lighting design of Malcolm Rippeth, manages to create enough intimate moments to focus the audience. Indeed, lighting is used to great comic effect in a couple of stand-out sequences.
Although very much a period piece now and pretty innocuous, freed from the constraints of puritanical 50s Hollywood film censors, Axelrod’s play can now explore and reflect the attitudes towards marriage and infidelity of that age. Far from shocking, the result today is a charming, revealing insight to a more innocent time, but above all a fine, and entertaining night out.