Promises Promises, the Burt Bacharach and Neil Simon musical currently playing at the Southwark Playhouse, is facing claims it’s misogynistic. But what does one of the play’s misogynists have to say?
Promises Promises, based on the film The Apartment, is a film about some business executives who manipulate a employee, under the promise of a promotion in the company, to use his apartment as a place to womanize and have affairs. It’s drawn a lot of criticism as some consider the production to be sexist and misogynistic, and are understandably asking why such a show should be being staged in 2017? Similar discussions and upset was caused by the Southwark Playhouse’s UK premier of Dogfight in 2015.
Ralph Bogard is an actor in the current production who plays Jesse Vanderhof, one of Promises Promises’ leering senior executives. Despite the rather chauvinistic role Bogard is playing, Bogard is widely known as a stage and cabaret actor staring in shows like Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens and Something Something Lazaurs, and also runs Unicorn Nights, a regular LGBT film event at the Prince Charles Cinema: in reality, a person who is pretty polemic from their on-stage persona in Promises Promises. Far from oblivious to the conversations happening around Promises Promises, Bogard has responded openly and eruditely on social media, and has given me permissions to re-publish it here.
“A few of people have asked me how I feel about some of the subject matter in the show I’m performing (Promises Promises) and in reply…
I’m glad the chauvinistic qualities of the show are very apparent. If you are outraged: good. You should be!
The show is a period piece set and written in the 1960s and what we have done in this production is highlight that misogyny by ensuring there are few, if any, redeeming qualities to the men. Imagine a chorus of handsome lithe men singing/saying what our characters do. Having gross leering men do that over beautiful women amplifies the disgusting nature of it rather than gloss over it.
In a time when the new President of the USA thinks it’s OK to grab women inappropriately and women’s rights are being compromised, it’s important to show how 50 years ago this was considered normal behaviour. The fact it’s still happening and that women in the workplace and over the world rarely have an equal footing shows that however difficult it might be to watch stuff like this is reminds us we have a way to go. Even now.
Someone asked me if I was ashamed being involved. “No, not at all,” I said. I would be if we ignored the matter, but we haven’t. The reactions of some have proven so, just a few people haven’t thought about WHY we’ve made it so obvious.
How many films/plays/musicals about repressed women are often produced? I can name a few off the top of my head that would, by today’s standard be unacceptable: My Fair Lady (grooming a young woman to suit an older man’s desires), Carousel (domestic abuse), Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (portraying women as only good for marrying), and Sweet Charity (a damaged woman turned prostitute in desperate need for love gets messed around, again). Aside from being fantastic shows in music, style and wit, they are there to also remind us we should be better, that we have a way to go and more to do.
That’s what theatre is there to do, hold a mirror up to society and say, “Hey! This is you, you know. Be better than this.”
Anyone that knows me is aware that I passionately support equality for all. I didn’t say yes to the project lightly. I looked at the fact WOMEN were guiding and leading this project and believed in their vision of the piece.
Come along make up your own mind. Plus the music is fab (I mean it’s Burt Bacharach!) and frankly the cast are all just wonderfully brilliant!”
Promises Promises plays at the Southwark Playhouse, London, SE1 6BD, until 18 February 2017. Tickets are £25 (concessions available). To book, visit southwarkplayhouse.co.uk.
The above views are solely those of Ralph Bogard, and do not necessarily reflect those of Grumpy Gay Critic, the Southwark Playhouse, or anyone involved in Promises Promises.