The Royal Court's winter season opens with Richard Bean's dramatic portrait of a marriage, Honeymoon Suite, in an English Touring Theatre production. The company is well known for the quality of its work, which includes Peter Gill's The York Realist, staged at the Royal Court in 2002.
Honeymoon Suite is the third of Bean's plays at the Royal Court, following Toast - about a night shift in a bread factory, and which was awarded the 2002 George Devine Award - and Under The Whaleback - about life aboard three trawlers in the North Sea.
"It is a bit of a departure for me, away from the blokey plays I've done in the past, to this, a love story," says Bean of the play, which was awarded the 2003 Pearson new play of the year award. Honeymoon Suite is set in a hotel in Bridlington and focuses on a couple, Eddie and Irene, who begin married life as excited 18-year-olds. They soon find, however, that the hotel room paid for by Irene's father - with its sea view, lead-crystal chandelier and massive bed - is too luxurious for a newly-wed, working-class couple. Eddie and Irene dare not touch anything in the room and prefer to eat at the local chip shop rather than in the hotel's restaurant. "They are terribly uncomfortable at being elevated to such luxury," says Bean.
While concerned with love, the play also deals with the cost of things. ("After all, we all have IKEA-type relationships that last three years," says Bean.) The father, whom you never see, has had to make sacrifices to pay for the whole wedding: "It has a knock-on effect. Eddie always feels he must overcompensate, to thank the father," says Bean. "It is a form of madness, and ruins the marriage."
Directed by Paul Miller, the action of the 90-minute play is confined to the one room. "It is this hotel room that holds profound emotions for them; all their memories," says Bean. The couple are shown at different stages of life, with six actors on the stage performing alongside each other. The audience sees them as 18-year-olds "trying to get it together", as a middle-aged couple enduring a silver wedding anniversary replete with painful silences, and then reunited in their late sixties (for which Eddie is played by John Alderton) after a long period apart.
"It is like watching three plays within a play," says Bean. "The couples understand each other's dilemmas and explain them for each other. Then it all makes sense."
"The middle-aged Irene goes on a spiritual journey of personal development - and has a career - which takes her away from her husband," reveals Bean. "But the husband is boorish and simple, and while she grows - to use one of those crappy therapy words - his commitment to her is so inflexible, so set in stone, that even when she has an affair, he is not threatened. Eddie's love is so intense that he ends up buying the hotel itself."
'Honeymoon Suite', Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square, London SW1 (www.royalcourttheatre.com; 020-7565 5000) 8 Jan - 7 FebReuse content