by Arthur Rochester
When the curtain rose on May’s production of Richard Bean’s Honeymoon Suite, the audience may have been a little bemused, wondering why the young couple enthusing over every detail of their Bridlington hotel room did not seem to notice the elderly man sitting quietly in a corner. The arrival of another couple, this time middle-aged, complicated the picture still further, until it gradually became clear that what we were witnessing was three representations of the same couple at different ages.
The term ‘suite’ may of course signify not only superior accommodation but also a set of musical compositions. It is perhaps not too fanciful for Richard Bean’s intricate plotting to be seen in this light, depicting as it does one couple’s developing relationship, from their wedding night in 1955, through a silver anniversary in 1980 to final disintegration in 2004.
What makes this structure unusual, if not quite unique, is that the three time-frames are not presented conventionally in sequence but skilfully interwoven, so that the relationship’s stages, from youthful ardour through middle-aged disillusionment to ultimate breakdown, are played out simultaneously.
Clearly this demands that each character is played at different ages by three actors. As eighteen-year old newly-weds Irene and Eddie, Victoria Kenway and Robert O’Neill radiated gauche sincerity and considerable earthy humour. As the same two characters at 43, whose names had by now developed into ‘Izzy’ and ‘Tits’, Ruth Jarvis and Bruce Wallace tellingly demonstrated the bitter tension of a failing marriage. And as the 67-year-old Marfleet (now a Labour baroness) and Whitchell, Pauline Armour and Stevie Hughes reflected the wisdom and the sorrows of advancing years.
Each individual characterisation was superbly crafted, employing believably and consistently the distinctive Yorkshire dialect of the fishing port of Hull, where Bean himself was born and where the characters hail from. This is, however, primarily an ensemble piece. The degree of mutual co-operation, trust and support required and amply demonstrated by the actors was exceptional, for which credit must go also to the director, Jane Lobb.
Movement around the relatively small stage, populated by characters existing in different time-frames, was expertly plotted and executed – only once did I detect (and I was watching for it) an instance of slight inadvertent physical contact.
Costumes had been chosen with care and were appropriate both to character and, importantly, to the different periods. The set, designed by the director, was sufficiently neutral in character to represent all three periods, provided the four doors essential to the action (to corridor, bathroom, cupboard and convincing French window to balcony overlooking the beach), and was enlivened by the elaborately ornate bed (which became a focus of amorous activity) and the symbolically sparkling crystal chandelier.
To return to my earlier analogy, Bean’s script could, I think, be likened to a piece of classical music, beautifully orchestrated, with movements that are sometimes slow and reflective and at other times lively and passionate. This company did it full justice, creating a dramatic impact that will remain with those of us who were fortunate enough to witness it for some time to come.