Mention Tennessee Williams and your average person immediately thinks of The Glass Menagerie, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof or A Streetcar Named Desire. These are considered, quite rightly, to be classics and performances of them are easy to find. However, for a limited time the Charing Cross Theatre is offering audiences the chance to see and appreciate one of TW’s less well known plays In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel.
It is 1969 and in a swish bar in downtown Tokyo, a middle-aged lady is having a drink or three. Her name is Miriam (Linda Marlowe) and she is basically killing time by flirting shamelessly with the handsome barman (Andrew Koji). Miriam is not subtle and the barman does his best to see off her advances, telling her he is engaged and faithful but not a lot is going to stop miriam who wants to play whilst her artist husband Mark (David Whitworth) is in his room painting. Whilst Miriam seems happy and gay, not even being put off her stride when she insults a Hawaiian Lady (Yasmin Maya) staying at the hotel, the reality is that she is worried about her husband who seems to be trying desperately to find his muse and may be on the way to a breakdown in his attempt to seek inspiration. Miriam is so worried that she telegraphs gallery owner Leonard (Alan Turkington) begging him to come and take Mark back to America for treatment.
Now I’m going to be honest and say that in all the time I’ve been reviewing, this is the first time that my companion and I have taken such diametrically opposing views on the play we have just seen. We both really enjoyed it but interpreted it completely differently. I had a look on Wikipedia this morning, and their precis of the play is different to both of ours so In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is definitely not your average play. Elements where my companion and I did really agree were Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s wonderfully authentic set which looked absolutely stunning and was used very effectively by Director Robert Chevara, as was Andrew May’s lighting which was excellent , particularly at the end of each act where it really enhanced and highlighted the story on the stage.
Turning to the actors, Linda Marlowe was truly sublime in the role of Miriam. Feisty and vivacious. Flirty and dangerous, over the course of the show I felt I had gained so much knowledge of both the character and the motivation behind her actions. Linda’s performance never put a foot wrong, from accent to intonation, she was Miriam and should be applauded for bringing this awesome lady to life. As I’ve said, my companion interpreted her behaviour completely differently to me and I really love that one performance is able to produce a range of interpretations. The other characters were equally as good with Andrew Koji as the Barman delivering a wonderfully cool, calm and collected performance, maintaining his poise – and integrity – no matter what Miriam threw at him. Likewise David Whitworth’s Mark was a really compelling character who I had difficulty fully working out. In one thing I’ve read, they described him as an alcoholic, I personally saw him much more as an individual in the throes of some form of mental illness related to his art. Gallery owner Leonard was a character that would be easy to get wrong. He was obviously gay but not in an over the top camp as a row of tents annoying manner and Alan Turkington brought Leonard’s character out by subtle movements of the body and looks rather than relying on the traditional limp wrist and lisp.
My only criticism of the play – and I will probably be labeled a heretic for this – is the writing. On the whole it flowed pretty well but there were often sentences started by a character that ended before they logically should. Often this made sense as characters basically talked over each other but sometimes, for example when Miriam was delivery a whole section of text, it made no sense to me for sentences to suddenly come to a stop at a point where it was obvious more was needed. Apart from that quibble, I liked the story which I have to admit I saw as one of hope rather than sadness, again at odds with my companion. I loved Miriam from the start and, let’s be honest, wouldn’t have minded travelling to Kyoto with her if she ever got around to the trip.
To sum up, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is a powerful piece that has many, many levels to it. I think this is one of those productions where the conversation afterwards will flow and discussion of the nuances and meanings of every action will go on long into the night. This may be one of Tennessee Williams’ least well-known plays, but it should not be forgotten about and is definitely well worth seeing.
Review by Terry Eastham
Linda Marlowe stars in a rare production of IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL, one of Williams’ most daring and extraordinary plays, in only its second London production in the 33 years since his death.
IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL, directed by Robert Chevara, will run for a 6-week season at Charing Cross Theatre from Tuesday 5 April – Saturday 14 May.
IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL reunites the creative team behind the
acclaimed 2012 sell-out production of Williams’ autobiographical Vieux Carré at the King’s Head Theatre in 2013, that later transferred to Charing Cross Theatre.
Produced by Steven M. Levy, Sean Sweeney and Vaughan Williams.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
Monday 4th April 2016 to Saturday 14th May 2016