Defibrillator’s The Hotel Plays is a trio of short works by Tennessee Williams staged, appropriately enough, within three rooms at the Langham Hotel. While the writing here may not be the most even of Williams’ prodigious output, the production in itself is incredibly powerful and inventive.
The first play staged is the first play written. The Pink Bedroom, from around 1943, bears all the hallmarks of early Williams: the slightly lumpy structure, overwrought poetry and the pitifully deep sense of personal anguish. The play is set in the blush-coloured love nest of a husband (Guyri Sarossy) and his mistress (Helen George). Not content with lying to his wife, Sarrosy’s character has now started telling lies to his bit on the side, and she’s not happy about it. George is excellent as the mistress and with her fierce blonde crop and strangulated voice plays her like a chorus girl after the lead role. She’s suffered one too many indignities at the hands of this man and so now she’s going to bring the house down. Sarrosy is similarly good as the beta male, made aware suddenly that his life has been crumbling away for years because of his unbreakable sexual devotion to this woman. “Pink,” he calls out in bitter worship of the chiffon bedspread, the lampshades, the nighties – and, of course, the flesh: “pink, pink, pink.” Directed by Anthony Banks, the production doesn’t put a foot wrong, and uses the tight space perfectly. There’s a good deal of humour here too, especially in the hilarious – if slightly camp – twist ending.
There’s a lot of humour in the final play too. Written just three years before Williams’s death, Starburst is an odd vignette, which plays like a surreal meditation on the playwright’s own life and demise. Carol Macready – the only cast member to return from the previous edition of The Hotel Plays of 2012 – plays actress Miss Sails, once cause célèbre of the stage, now grown old and forgotten. Miss Sails can’t get around so well anymore and so is left practically bedridden in a corner of an old landmark hotel. When two young, drunk spivs (Daniel Ings and Jake Mann) plan to murder her so they can wrench the priceless “Sunburst” diamond from her swollen arthritic finger, she manages to stall them with her fading wit and half-remembered lines of Shakespeare.
There’s less humour in the middle play, though, to my mind the most precisely written and successful of the three – and the one that uses its site-specific location to the greatest end. Green Eyes is a tense and uncomfortable short play that is Williams at his most political. A newly-wedded couple wake up in a New Orleans hotel. The man (Gethin Anthony), a Vietnam soldier on leave, demands an explanation of the bruises he sees on his young wife’s body (Aisling Loftus). “Who you been fucking?” he asks in a low southern drawl, the tone typical of Williams, the language alien. Loftus is magnetic as the spirited wife, already knocked about by married life but defiant, while Anthony is perfect as the angry and fragile young man, a troubled drunk all but wrecked by his time at war.
Directed by James Hillier, Green Eyes, works so well as a site-specific piece because rather than just the setting being matched by the venue – which is one of the issues I have with site-specific theatre; as if the artifice of a beautifully crafted set and cleverly set-up lighting rig subtracts from the transcendental power of the theatrical experience rather than adds to it – the tone of the play is enhanced by the venue too. Though they used the spaces creatively too, the other two pieces could pretty much have been staged anywhere. With Green Eyes the voyeuristic quality of the play makes its hotel room staging all the more claustrophobic and uncomfortable. The night I went, when we filed out to watch the third play, we passed two young boys in the corridor outside, intrigued and frightened by the shouting going on behind the door.
While it’s true that this is not Williams’ writing at its strongest, there is still a tremendous amount of wit and heart on display here, the production as a whole thoughtful, energising and inventive.