If you've ever looked at a mature couple and wondered what kept them together all those years, Honeymoon Suite ought to tickle your fancy. Richard Bean’s simple but brilliant play puts one couple’s relationship under the microscope at three crucial points and leaves us to decide what, if anything, these people have learnt from life and one another.
On Eddie and Irene’s wedding night, she's nervous and shy, while he’s keen to impress. Twenty-five years later, they're back for their silver anniversary by which time the disappointments of married life are weighing heavy on Irene. Finally, they reunite, 23 years later still, and find that, despite drastic changes, they still have a lot in common.
All of these interactions take place in the honeymoon suite of a hotel in Bridlington. But what makes the proceedings so enjoyable is that we witness the couple at these points simultaneously. That is to say, we have six actors, two playing the couple at each age, and the action unfolds in the same space at the same time.
This creates some fascinating perspectives, with a constant feeling of deja vu as we witness the same conversations and arguments recur across the years. We also get a clear sense of how each person has changed, or not as the case may be.
Paul Miller, who directs for English Touring Theatre, effortlessly moves the couples around the stage, gliding unaware past their older or younger counterpart. It's a wonderful set-up. The characters are so tantalisingly close to each other, and you can’t help but wish they could see their alter egos – like a Christmas Carol – as they would all benefit from a bit more self-knowledge.
The performers have a tough job - to play the same person with enough similarity that we recognise them and enough difference to make their part their own - and they all do very well.
I particularly enjoyed John Alderton’s old Eddie, so riddled with contradiction. Alderton deftly takes elements of the other ‘Eddies’ and galvanises them with his own bleak yet optimistic finish. The result is an impressive piece of characterisation. Though entertaining, Jeremy Swift’s ‘middle’ Eddie is somehow out of kilter with his counterparts. At times, he comes across rather like a stand-up comedian – great with the jokes but less convincing in more weighty moments.
Overall, though, Honeymoon Suite is a neat piece with something to offer theatregoers of all tastes. Bean’s writing is quick-witted and bounces along, and the inventive theatrical set-up makes it resonate in all the right places.