Pros: A superb performance by Linda Marlowe; the production’s redeeming feature.
Cons: Narrative not as engaging as other works by Tennessee Williams.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is a 1969 play by Tennessee Williams. Brought to the Charing Cross Theatre by Steven Levy, Sean Sweeney and Vaughan Williams, this is a rare revival of Williams’ later work, staring the excellent Linda Marlowe as Miriam Conley and directed by Robert Chevara. The play was written when Williams’ addiction to drink and drugs was at its height and it is thought Williams’ own frustrations at the time are represented by the two protagonists.
The action takes place on a single set – the bar of a Tokyo hotel – where American couple Mark (David Whitworth) and his wife, Miriam, are staying. Mark is an aged and displaced alcoholic painter, whose fledging career has led him to a breakdown. He spends most of his time painting in the pair’s hotel room where he, in a state of psychosis, thinks he has discovered colour. All the while, his promiscuous wife drinks the time away in the hotel’s bar, sexually harassing the barman (Andrew Koji) to whom she is attracted.
There are some good aspects to this production, not least Marlowe’s portrayal of Miriam. For me, Marlowe was the redeeming feature, delivering an interpretation of character that it was difficult not to like, even though I probably shouldn’t. As she tottered up and down the raked staged in her heels, back and forth to the bar (and sometimes behind it) in pursuit of booze and the bar man – who is many years her junior – there were moments of humour, counter-balanced by the tragedy of her circumstances, her desperation and longing.
The whole cast worked Williams’ dialogue well, mostly keeping their cues snappy in response to the unfinished sentences that are a heavy – and slightly irritating – feature throughout. Whitworth played Mark with gusto, presenting the frustration and bewilderment of the character with heaps of theatricality. The audience is in safe hands with Whitworth and Marlowe, both seasoned professionals of a certain ilk. They played off each other well and depicted the fractured marriage of Mark and Miriam with conviction and rawness.
Having said this, the work that might have been at one time experimental now feels dated (which of course it is) and, for me, the narrative was not particularly inspiring; my engagement began to taper off towards the end of the first half. I understood the meaning behind the words and actions of the characters, their fear and sense of displacement, but the story failed to rivet me. It was a little laborious, repetitive and went nowhere fast.
In the past, I have enjoyed watching the work of Williams, particularly the Royal Exchange Theatre’s production of The Glass Menagerie (2008), but I found it difficult to like In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel. Older audiences and fans of Williams are more likely to enjoy this production, opposed to people like myself who prefer something a little more compelling and less comfortable.
Author: Tennessee Williams
Director: Robert Chevara
Producer: Steven M. Levy, Sean Sweeney and Vaughan Williams
Booking Until: Saturday 14th May 2016
Box Office: 08444 930 650
Booking Link: http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk/show/25/In+the+Bar+of+a+Tokyo+Hotel