Theatre review: The Hotel Plays at the Langham Hotel, Portland Place

Tennessee Williams spent much of his later life in hotel rooms and indeed died in one in 1983. He wrote many short plays set in them – often seedy, run-down boarding houses – but this trio of vignettes, penned in different decades, takes place in three rooms at one of London’s most elegant hotels.

They are nevertheless permeated with Williams’ favoured themes of death, sex and illusion, and the middle play carries echoes of his famous warring couples, Stanley and Blanche and Brick and Maggie.

The Pink Bedroom (1954) sees a disillusioned mistress dispensing with her married lover of eight years.

Helen George (Trixie from Call The Midwife) is all alabaster prettiness and pert indignation, repeatedly rubbing her hands as if washing off the now sagging middle-aged man who failed to live up to her adoration.

The rose-tinted love nest that once enthralled him now sickens, and there’s a real voyeur’s frisson to seeing their parting play out at such close quarters.

Green Eyes (1970) takes place in a New Orleans honeymoon suite after a whirlwind romance as Aisling Loftus’ (Agnes in Mr Selfridge) bruised wife sleeps off a drunken night with her soldier husband. He’s haunted by (imagined) infidelity and very real brutality against civilians in Vietnam.

Loftus, who gets her tongue around those lazy southern vowels, captures the girl’s youthful brittleness and cynicism, giving way to a goading, impassioned description of her green-eyed lover.

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There’s intriguing ambivalence over whether it’s fantasy or reality and a genuine charge of tension at their simmering sexual violence.

The latest and weakest play Sunburst (1980) depicts a wealthy ageing actress held hostage by two bungling bellhops for her priceless ring. There’s insufficient menace and the piece feels underwritten but Jake Mann’s Luigi is suitably nasty, and all three shorts evoke flashes of Williams’ talent for brilliant compressed dialogue and a marvellously nuanced view of human relationships.

***

Until March 8.

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