The Hotel Plays at the Langham Hotel, London
Guest Feature by Natalie York:
Tennessee Williams spent most of his later life going from hotel room to hotel room. In the end he died in one, choking on the cap of a medicine bottle in the early 80’s. With his lengthy, show-stopping dramas still very much in vogue today I was intrigued when I heard that Defibrillator, one of the great lesser-sung theatre companies, would be staging three short works, each set in hotel rooms, in an actual hotel!
I have never quite worked out why so much of immersive theatre needs to take place in warehouses and creepy abandoned hospitals, (I have been to two different pieces set in an abattoir in the last year…) so the prospect of the luxurious Langham hotel seemed particularly exciting. The hotel is frankly gorgeous, the ground floor feels opulent and rich whilst still being light and airy and upstairs the corridors and rooms retain the hotel’s Victorian heritage without feeling stuffy or uncomfortable. As a setting for Tennessee Williams it worked perfectly, providing a surprisingly adaptable background for the three very different hotels Defibrillator needed to evoke. Additionally the fact that the real, bustling world of the hotel was carrying on just beyond the door really adds to the plays’ immersive impact, you really feel, like in any hotel room, that anyone could burst in or be listening through the keyhole. I wander what the Langham’s guests made of all the noisy Americans shouting in those three rooms!
We kicked the evening off with the earliest piece, “The Pink Bedroom”, which dates from the 1940s. We see a middle-aged man visit his younger mistress who he keeps in a hotel room decorated, unsurprisingly, entirely in a soft, childish shade of pink. As the play wore on and the couple failed to get to bed their deep-seated anger at each other bubbled up and over and the lines blurred between which one of them was the real captive in the pink bedroom. Gyuri Sarossy was satisfyingly despondent as the older man, at one beautiful moment he simply crumbles, his entire body folding in as he finally accepts just what a corner he has painted himself into. In contrast Helen George as his lover is all nervous energy, although she is dressed in the same absurd shades of pink as her surroundings she relentlessly destroys their shared fantasy world, forcing both to see it for the tawdry reality it is.
Second we were ushered into a room that was all too shabbily un-fantastical, to see a couple who both urgently needed to escape from reality. “The Green Eyes”, written in 1970, sees two newlyweds on holiday in New Orleans. We watch as both grow increasingly uneasy with each other, finally realizing with palpable horror that they have no real idea about the person they just married. Gethin Anthony was particularly impressive as the husband, with a bullish physicality barely masking deep feelings of guilt and emotional trauma from his experiences in the army. The piece felt particularly brief but looking back on it the detail Tennessee Williams crams into what can’t have been more than 20-30 minute of theatre is stunning as all the pair’s petty failings are laid bare with effortless efficiency and even in the opulent Langham you feel the steamy, seedy underbelly of New Orleans lying just outside the window.
If “The Pink Bedroom” and “The Green Eyes” both ultimately deal with extreme moments within very ordinary relationships then “The Sunburst” turns the evening on its head showing us that even the most bizarre situations can descend into almost absurd triviality. This was hands down my favourite performance of the night, probably the least Tennessee Williams-esque of the three and interestingly written very late in the writer’s life, just three years before his death in 1983. We see an ageing Grand Dame of the stage, played with humour and genuine sympathy by the magnificent Carol Macready, living in a hotel suite near the end of her life, crippled by illness and isolation but retaining a thin façade of her faded glamour. I was reminded of Williams himself who at the time of writing was also ageing in a hotel suite, watching his own work grow less popular. However, Miss Sail’s gilded birdcage is invaded by two robbers committed to stealing a sunburst diamond from off her finger, the catch is it won’t come off! As the night wears on we see Miss Sails grow in strength as her captors become increasingly panicked and addled on drugs, Daniel Ings is especially good, both laughably inept and, on occasion, chillingly vicious. Whilst easily the most comic of the three plays “The Sunburst” also felt the most dangerous with the potential for violence always lurking in the background. It was a wonderful reminder of the vitality of Tennessee Williams later work and rounded off a trio of moving and surprising plays with great class.
The production runs at the Langham Hotel until 8 March 2014.
Tuesday to Saturday at 7pm, 7.30m, 8pm
Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday matinees 3pm, 3.30pm
Ticket price: £24, £29 for the three plays in one time slot of 90 minutes duration
Age recommendation 16+
Box Office via Soho Theatre:
Tel: 020 7478 0100 / www.thehotelplays.co.uk