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 The Theatreguide.London Review


The Hotel in Amsterdam
Donmar Warehouse, Autumn 2003

The engine driving all John Osborne's writing was anger, and when his anger was fiery enough, and directed at targets worthy enough - as in Look Back in Anger or Inadmissible Evidence - his plays had an energy that could be overpowering.

The problem with this lesser 1968 play, here given as strong and stylish a production as you could ask for, is that the anger at its centre seems trivial and unfocussed. And so the play as a whole has little reason for being.

Three married couples are gathered in the titular luxury hotel, on the run from the oppressive film producer who employs one member of each pair. Worn out by his demands, they've escaped for a weekend of rest and relaxation, but they can't completely free themselves from his shadow.

Between a lot of drinking and a lot of trying to decide where to go for dinner, they spend much of their energy complaining, about him and other things. The men joke about whether they're effeminate or boring or second-rate, thereby exposing their very real fears that they are all these things. The women handle all the practical matters, only intermittently hinting at any resentment at always having to do this.

And through it all they - particularly the writer played by Tom Hollander - vent their spleens. Or, rather, they kvetch, because the subjects of the writer's tirades - slow room service, the French, the boss's unidentified offenses, and the like - are all so petty and trivial that they have no real energy or bite; and all that is exposed is the speaker's smallness.

Not much happens through three-quarters of the play. Eventually there is a visitor whose function is unclear, one husband and one wife declare their attraction to each other, and bad news comes in a telephone call from home, but these all seem like mechanical attempts to create the illusion of plot and justify an ending.

Director Robin Lefevre and his cast have tried to compensate for the play's emptiness by grasping at any hints of Pinteresque subtext, so that there are vague undertones of more-than-we-see going on, though they are almost never made clear or even real enough to reverberate.

Tom Hollander does what he can to make a real character out of the author's mouthpiece, and Susannah Harker as his wife is most successful in suggesting that there are things going on in their relationship that we don't quite see. Among the others only Anthony Calf, as an amiable and more than slightly dim film editor, and Olivia Williams as his sharp-minded wife, are able to make more than cardboard listeners out of their roles.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Hotel in Amsterdam - Donmar 2003