A couple lie, partly naked, asleep, apart, on a rumpled bed in a hotel room. The matching upholstery has an air of faded grandeur. Watery sunlight leaks in through the drawn curtains.
The intimacy of The Hotel Plays is stark, arresting and incisive. This opening image, left hanging in the air in silent anticipation for uncomfortably long, sets the tone for the evening.
Defibrillator’s latest piece is in keeping with the current trend for site-specific work, and for unusual re-workings of writers we thought we knew. But this is much more than just a vogue-ish glance at a bunch of little-known texts. The Hotel Plays takes three obscure Tennessee Williams pieces, never before performed in the UK, and sets them in context. With each play, the audience climbs higher through the Grange Holborn Hotel’s many floors, exploring the stories and relationships behind the closed doors.
Of the three plays, Green Eyes (the first) deserves special mention. The piece explores the disintegrating relationship of a honeymooning couple. As their bed becomes a battleground, the text probes the effect of war on ordinary Americans. Beautifully and sparely directed by James Hillier, the piece is lonely, sad and devastating. Matt Milne and Claire Latham, playing the couple, balance the pain and boredom in their relationship while finding some lovely moments of comedy. Throughout the evening, tragedy and comedy walk on a knife-edge, a classic Tennessee Williams textual trait. The cast is absolutely up to this challenge, and play the knife-edge beautifully. This is where the piece gains its weight, its satisfaction: characters and relationships are confrontationally real.
As a whole, the shows are well cast and extremely well performed. Carol Macready in the last piece, Sunburst, also deserves special attention: her physical pain feels almost tangible within the room. It is very difficult to watch, and resist the impulse to try to help her, particularly in the close proximity of the hotel room. This is an evening of subtle and elegant performances: there is no weak link.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Hotel Plays - if, indeed, enjoyed is the right word. Williams anatomises the three sets of relationships, and the plays are quietly devastating, intimately excruciating portraits of lonely people. If there is a flaw in the evening, it is perhaps that the transitions between each scene feel a little clumsy. The show opens with Giuseppe (played with neatly twitching nervousness by Charlie Holloway) greeting us in the hotel lobby. He then disappears until Sunburst, which is a bit of a shame, but probably a logistical necessity as the three plays cycle throughout the evening, playing simultaneously to different audiences. Our usher was charming, but the journeys between the pieces felt clunky, taking us out of the worlds so well created within the rooms. In some ways, this was like coming up for air, but it also let the audience off the hook. It would perhaps have been a more interesting choice to create some little narrative linking all three.
It is a master stroke to play these pieces in a hotel setting. Not only because of the reality and intimacy that context lends to story, but also because it magnifies the universal nature of the narratives. The Grange has over 200 rooms. We happen to go into three of them. But as we file back down the stairs, past floors and floors of closed doors, stories of just as much pain and intensity could be going on behind any one of them.