★★★ | In the Bar of a Tokyo HotelCREDIT: Scott Rylander
A middle-aged woman sits in a bar in a Tokyo hotel waiting for her husband; knocking back cocktails, sexually harassing the waiter and throwing out barbed comments. Her speech is unfiltered and whilst lyrical at times is also staccato and brutal at others. She sits well within the ranks of Tennessee Williams’ characters: a brittle yet beautiful monster who is bemoaning the onset of old age and so tightly coiled that an unravelling of some sort is inevitable. In short, she’s simultaneously a joy and a horror to watch.
Tennessee Williams’ late play “In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel” was met with a hostile critical reaction when it was first staged in 1969 and has rarely been produced since. It’s a shame that this work has floundered out of sight, as there’s much merit to it, despite its flaws. Written at the start of his final descent into addiction and depression’ it’s an unusual play with absurd elements and strange patterns of speech. The characters are unsympathetic at times, the dialogue isn’t easy to follow and the interactions are surreal. Yet, it’s also a very funny play in parts and there are moving aspects to the scenario. As the play progresses it becomes easier to fall into the patterns of the dialogue.
Director Robert Chevara has bravely mounted this version and done so with aplomb. The movement and rhythm is perfectly captured in his use of a well-chosen cast and a stylish set. The great Linda Marlowe plays Miriam with spiky coolness and is pitch perfect. She careers round the vertiginously steep stage on heels like a terrifying Gorgon crushing everyone in her path yet flashing hints of her underlying vulnerability. Andrew Koji is desperately handsome as the deadpan barman, gritting his teeth as Miriam shamelessly fondles him. Alan Turkington puts over the waspish campness of Leonard with style. Yet beneath all this lies an imperfect play that just doesn’t quite rise to the occasion.
If you’re a fan of Williams’ work then this play is an interesting addition to the body of his work. Within the period piece hallucinatory style there are echoes of characters, themes and styles that will be familiar. If you’re a newcomer to his work then it’s still worth a try.
Even at his less than best Williams is a monumental writer and always worth revisiting.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel plays at Charing Cross Theatre until the 14th May 2016
“Even at his less than best Williams is a monumental writer and always worth revisiting.”