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Posts Tagged ‘Defibrilator’

When my former employer reached its 150th anniversary, it commissioned a rather dry book about its history. The Langham Hotel had a much better idea – to commission a play to be staged inside it. Defibrilator Theatre had its second run of Tennessee Williams’ Hotel Plays at the Langham, so they were the obvious choice.

Playwright Ben Ellis’ big idea is to stage three ‘acts’ (I’d prefer to call them playlets as they don’t really constitute one play) in three periods in three spaces and it works well. We start in the present with a pop diva (played by a real life former pop singer, Hannah Spearritt) throwing a strop, refusing to take the helicopter to the arena where 20,000 fans are waiting. Her manager works hard to change her mind. In the second play, we’re in the early 70’s and BBC radio have relocated studios from across the road. An American businessman (and Vietnam veteran) and his wife are waiting to be interviewed on air and we learn of the motivation behind his business and their relationship with one another. In the final play, we’re back in 1871 with the French emperor and his wife in exile, contemplating a return to Paris or a journey to Vietnam.

There are connections between them – Vietnam, margarine (!) and ‘the armour’ that gives the evening its title – but they are three miniatures that come together to provide a satisfying, if brief and fairly expensive, experience. I could have done without the chirpy ‘concierge’s explanations and excuses, which were a bit contrived and detracted a little from the experience, and the journeys from the lower ground floor to the 3rd, 7th and back again became a bit tiresome. The six performances, though, were very impressive. Thomas Craig was well matched with Hannah Spearritt in the first play. Simon Darwin and Siubhan Harrison were intense and captivating as the American couple. Sean Murray and Finty Williams were appropriately regal and graceful as the French royals.

In The Hotel Plays (which I saw and enjoyed in its first run elsewhere (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-hotel-plays) we were scattered in the rooms like flies on the wall, which I preferred to the seating supplied here, but director / producer James Hillier has done a good job staging these plays and the complimentary bubbles were very welcome (though messing us around by trying to change time slots for no obvious reason wasn’t!).

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The Finborough Theatre has an uncanny timeliness when it comes to revivals. If you ignore the clothes, decor, period references and what’s going on outside the Brixton house in which it is set, Hard Feelings could easily be a contemporary play. This could be because nothing’s really changed or it could be that we’ve gone full circle.

Doug Lucie’s play takes place during the 1981 Brixton riots. A bunch of Oxford University graduates are sharing the house rich kid Viv’s parents have bought for her. You have to keep on the right side of Viv and fellow rich kids Annie & Rusty do so by providing her with a drink and drug fuelled social life and sex. Working class Baz (who sells frisbees!) and trainee lawyer Jane opt for the quiet life, not joining in but not challenging, as Viv becomes more and more of a control freak day by day. Jane’s boyfriend Tone, a left-wing cockney journo, is afraid of no-one and brings some welcome home truths with news of what’s happening outside, something that for them is just getting in the way of having fun. This is Thatcher’s Britain, so there’s no such thing as society. Only two are left to join Viv in welcoming her parents.

It’s a slow burn at first, but it draws you in to this world. It’s a credit to Isabella Laughland, Margaret Clunie & Jesse Fox that I hated rich kids Viv, Annie & Rusty almost enough to get out of my seat and give them a slap! I also wanted to shake Nick Blakeley’s passive Baz and tell him to grow some balls. Zora Bishop does well transitioning from compliant Jane to angry Jane and Callum Turner is testosterone on legs as brittle Tone. Stephanie Williams’s uber-realistic (and, for me, nostalgic!) design is brilliant and in James Hillier’s excellent traverse staging you’re virtually in the room with them.

Doug Luice wrote 15 or so plays in the 80’s and 90’s (and just into the 00’s). They were produced at places like the Bush, Tricycle, Royal Court, Hampstead, Lyric and even the RSC. I saw seven of them, including the first London outing for this play 30 years ago, and just can’t understand why he isn’t revived more. He doesn’t even get a Wikipedia entry! What would we do without the Finborough? Indispensable theatre, unmissable revival.

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New-on-the-block company Defibrilator follow their excellent Blue Surge at the Finborough by staging three late Tennessee Williams shorts in three different rooms in, well, a hotel.

We meet in the foyer of the Holborn Grange Hotel (very welcoming staff) and c. 20 of us head off to Room 201 where a couple are waking. Sitting around them in close proximity isn’t always comfortable as they fight and quarrel about the boy’s drinking and the girl’s fidelity. Off to Room 301 before the arrival of what appears to be an old queen and his toy boy / rent boy playing power games with one another. Finally, another floor up to 401 where an old lady is preyed upon and robbed by two young men after her jewelry.

Three very different plays that benefit from the intimacy and immediacy of the staging. The artifice is soon overtaken by your immersion in the stories and it really is a voyeuristic experience. Late TW never matches great TW but it’s always fascinating to see him lose his inhibitions and here there’s an extent to which we have to lose ours with him.

All eight actors are very good, with a particular star turn from veteran Carol Macready as Miss Sylvia Sails in the final play. Here’s even a Downton Abbey footman if you’re into seeing  ‘people off the telly’!

An original and rewarding experience.

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