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Posts Tagged ‘The Hotel Plays’

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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More site-specific Tennessee Williams to follow 2012’s The Hotel Plays (https://garethjames.wordpress.com/2012/10/20/the-hotel-plays) which are about to be revived. This one, occupying the fourth floor of a building awaiting renovation, is a very different experience, more narration / dance / movement than play(s). I found it rather captivating.

A promenade piece in which we move from dance hall to one room apartment to plush parlour to giant bathroom, Beata Csikmak’s extraordinary design has Punchdrunk’s detail but we absorb more of it because we stay in each location longer. The sound design by John Zalewski contributes much to create the atmosphere. The narrative is really narration, with the three actors telling us about things that have happened and what they feel whilst their interactions are largely physical rather than verbal. The words are based on several texts plus interviews rather than being plays themselves and the evening, directed by Annie Saunders (who also performs) & Sophie Bortolussi seems to me to be more about atmosphere than meaning.

The actors (Anthony Nikolchev & Chris Polick accompany Saunders) move around us and each other, intertwining their bodies and engaging with individual audience members, both physically and verbally (nothing too racy!). They climb over the furniture, contort themselves and occasionally surprise us by their arrival, direction or disappearance. Somehow the combination of this sensual movement, the rooms themselves, the soundscape and the words they speak convey Tennessee Williams’ world without actually being a Tennessee Williams play. Hugely atmospheric and more impressionistic than literal.

I have to say I was enthralled for 70 minutes, though I couldn’t tell you what it was all about. It probably isn’t for those who like their TW literal and conventional, but for a lover of the eclectic like me it was a bit of a treat. A big welcome to LA-based company Wilderness and a big thank you to hosts Theatre Delicatessen.

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