Tennessee Williams remains one of our most loved and illustrious playwrights, with his plays endlessly being performed to an appreciative audience all over the world. With that said, it is only on a very rare occasion that we get to see one of his lesser known plays amongst the greats. His short plays are often forgotten or pushed to the bottom of the pile when, in fact, we should be recognising all of this playwrights’ work, seeking and devouring the fragments and nods to his other plays. In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel was written in 1969, shortly after a stream of great success and reintroduces to Williams’ great talents through a hidden gem.
In ninety minutes we follow aging Miriam (Linda Marlowe) in a selfish, preoccupied fantasy as she desperately tries to shake off her husband. In a hopeless attempt to regain her ‘vitality’ in anyway she can, Miriam concerns herself with the Barman (Andrew Koji). As her allure fades further, we learn her husband (David Whitworth), a painter, in an attempt to relive his artistic success, thinks he has discovered colour, launching him into a mayhem.
Williams’ play echoes everything we love about the author. An older woman written with wit, charm, power and determination, someone with such drive that she will stop at nothing to get her way. Marlowe mostly keeps up with Miriam but there is an overwhelming sense that the lines are carrying Marlowe along rather than the lines being lived. At moments, particularly in Miriam’s asides, we see glimpses of wondrous talent and feel trapped in her world. She comes to terms with the fact there is no way out, resonating in her final lines “I have nowhere to go”. However, these moments are quickly overshadowed and Marlowe lets us slide in and out of Miriam’s character, leaving a progression or understanding of the character.
David Whitworth has a more challenging role to play here, with his sentences being left without an end, connecting the Japanese idea that the reader finishes the lines. This not only displays the painter’s descent into madness and the uncertainty that lies within Miriam and Mark’s relationship, but it also supplies a feeling of being isolation from the Western world. Whitworth struggles with the demands of Mark’s character but, much like Marlowe, manages to perform with a lot of help from Williams’ writing.
It goes without saying that the audience is charmed by the words and humour of the script, particularly in scenes where we see Miriam use all of her power to seduce the barman, quickly failing every time. However, director Robert Chevara doesn’t use Williams’ talents to the best of his ability- many lines that fizzle out without any impact at all. Chevara seems to do this on other occasions throughout the play too. At the top of each act seemingly random, stereotypical Japanese music is played to introduce us to the setting, something which is already stunningly communicated by set and costume designer Nicolai Hart-Hansen and Jonathan Lipman; it seems redundant within the production. With Williams’ usual attention and impact of music, it’s unfortunate that its use was not better realised- what was used was uncommunicative and other moments were left longing.
It’s hard to be wholly disappointed in a Tennessee Williams play since, no matter what, there will always be a clear wordsmith hidden in the text. This production just didn’t quite grasp my attention though, it needed just a little bit more of everything for it to communicate the gem it really is.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is playing Charing Cross Theatre until [show end date]. For more information and tickets, see the Charing Cross Theatre website..