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A CurtainUp London Review
The Hotel Plays
Having been greeted by ushers (Charlie played by Linden Walcott-Burton and an unnamed girl) speaking in the accents of the Deep South we are led up the stairs to The Pink Bedroom where an angry mistress (Helen George) of eight years duration is castigating her married lover (Gyuri Sarossy). She is small with bottle blonde hair, as short as a boy's, and has big appealing eyes, but with a huge and grating voice and an aggressive manner. She is shrill and strident and lists off her litany of criticisms which appeared to have been triggered by the gift, in her eyes derisory, of a red poinsettia. He is a man at the end of his tether not coping well with the conflicting expectations and demands of wife and mistress. They are both unsympathetic, she is too noisy to be likeable and he appears to lack backbone.
The whole place at his instigation is decorated in pink from the lampshades to the bedcover and the girl wears a pink robe. This colour, once chosen for its romantic light, has become the stuff of nightmares. There is commentary on the lifestyle of the wife as well as the mistress. Of course this being Tennessee Williams there is a delicious twist which I cannot reveal here. The first play was complete by 1943 although they have found earlier drafts but it is now set in St Louis in 1954.
In the second play Green Eyes, set in New Orleans in the 1960s, a newly wed couple on honeymoon role play fantasies to sexually arouse each other. It's difficult to know what is reality and what is role play as she (Aisling Loftus) longs after two soft boiled eggs for breakfast (fantasy) and instead gets a pair of unbending croissants (croy-sants) (reality). He (Gethin Anthony) is in the army as he wears the dog tag and, in his khaki vest, he comes close enough for us to smell his armpits in the heat of Nawlins. He talks about the army training in Waco and says how ill prepared he was to shoot down women and children, presumably in Viet Nam. There is a bombshell about whether his new wife will get any of his army pay, arguments about spending money in New Orleans, and she counters with a tale to make him very jealous. Violence ensues and we are reminded of the post traumatic stress suffered by soldiers after serving in war zones. This play dates from about 1970 but was unpublished for 40 years.
The third play, Sunburst, set in New York in 1980, is named after the large diamond ring worn by Miss Sails (Carol Macready), a retired actress in her seventies. Two criminals, Giuseppe (Daniel Ings) and Luigi (Jake Mann) intend to rob the disabled woman in her hotel room but an attempt to drug her and ply her with alcohol fails when she declares that she will only drink Pouilly Fume. She quotes lines from the The Tempest and despite her infirmity defends herself and her ring. It is hard not to participate when we see her threatened.
All three plays are well acted and well directed and you couldn't get much nearer to the environment than to be so close that you have to shrink back into your chair as a physical fight takes place within inches of your nose. The Hotel Plays feel like a Punchdrunk production but with more dialogue, more crowd control and more intimacy.
As we walk along hotel corridors with people behind the closed doors, we wonder what scenes are playing out in this dormitory world. In the first play we heard loud banging and jumping around from a room upstairs which we assumed to be where another play was taking place, but when we saw the other plays, there was nothing as physical as that for that long. Life imitating art or just children bouncing on hotel beds for the half term break?
The Langham, the historic hotel the plays are set in was the real life setting for a dinner between Arthur Conan Doyle, the writer of the Sherlock Holmes stories and Oscar Wilde, after which Wilde wrote The Picture of Dorian Grey and Doyle The Sign of Four.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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