Stephen Fenerty takes a look at the author of SUP’s upcoming LONDON SUITE: a bona fide comedy legend
Neil Simon – acclaimed author of LONDON SUITE – wrote more than 30 plays and almost the same number of movie screenplays in his lifetime. He received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer.
In one theatrical season alone, Simon had four successful plays running on Broadway at the same time. In 1983, he became the only living playwright to have a New York theatre named in his honour.
Revered as a comedy legend, his other hits included BAREFOOT IN THE PARK (1964), THE ODD COUPLE (1965) which became a hugely successful film starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1972), BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS (1983) and many more. His autobiographical play LOST IN YONKERS (1991) won a Pulitzer Prize.
Growing up in the Bronx in New York City during the Great Depression of the 1930s times were hard for the young and extremely shy Marvin (his real first name).
He took refuge in movie theatres, where he particularly enjoyed screen comedians like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Laurel and Hardy. An excellent grounding in comic timing and pathos for his later career.
After graduating from high school, and a few years spent in the US Army Air Force Reserve, Simon quit his job working in the mailroom at Warner Bros. to write writing comedy scripts for radio and early TV shows with his brother, Danny.
A big deal in the USA, you may not have heard of these classic shows from the early years of television: Sid Caesar’s Your Show of Shows (with Simon working alongside other young writers including Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner) and The Phil Silvers Show, more commonly known as Sergeant Bilko in the UK.
He began writing his own plays in 1961 and, by 1965, his Tony Award For THE ODD COUPLE had made him a national celebrity and “the hottest new playwright on Broadway”.
Writing stage plays and original screenplays until 2003, Simon’s “style” ranged from romantic comedy to farce and more serious dramatic comedy. All three styles and more are covered in SUP Theatre Company’s production of LONDON SUITE.
Written in 1995, LONDON SUITE is a standalone play but also a sequel of sorts – in terms of its hotel setting, structure and, indeed, a few characters – to Simon’s previous plays PLAZA SUITE (1968) and CALIFORNIA SUITE (1976). In the movie version of the latter, the characters of Diana and Sidney were played onscreen by Maggie Smith and Michael Caine. In LONDON SUITE, we have the brilliant Marilyn Dunbar and Jez Minns in these memorable roles.
Able to blend comedy with drama, Simon’s characters have been described as “imperfect, unheroic figures who are at heart decent human beings.” As you’ll see for yourself in SUP’s LONDON SUITE. His plays are quirky and extremely funny.
Marvin Neil Simon died in New York City on 26th August 2018 aged 91.
Come and enjoy this master of comedy at the Rose Theatre, Eastleigh, 18-19 October 2019 – book tickets here.
Stephen Fenerty is co-chair of SUP Theatre Compoany, and is directing the first section of LONDON SUITE – “Settling Accounts”