The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel
Charing Cross Theatre Spring 2016
I have had occasion to remark that the B-level work of an A-level writer is often more worth seeing than the A-level work of a B-level writer.
In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel may even be C-level work, but it is by Tennessee Williams, which means that despite any flaws it has qualities no other writer could bring it.
This rarely revived play was written in the late 1960s during Williams's 'lost decade' of drug and alcohol dependence and waning powers (Williams to Gore Vidal years later: 'I don't remember the Sixties'. Vidal: 'You didn't miss anything'.)
It is the work of a playwright still capable of breath-taking poetry, striking imagery and sensitive insights into wounded characters – but also one losing his ability to control and structure a play, and to transform the outpourings of his heart into art.
Ironically, In The Bar is partly about just such an artist, an ageing and alcoholic painter struggling to get what he sees in his mind out onto canvas.
But the centre of the play is the artist's wife, a woman of a certain age exhausted by supporting and tending him, and battling one of Williams' signature demons, what she calls in a memorable image 'the hideous product of clocks'.
She is far from dead and determined to live, even if that means abandoning her husband and moving on alone, allowing herself the liberty of vulgarity and compulsively flirting with bartenders.
You may have spotted in that marriage, which one character notes makes them almost two sides of a single person, a bit of self-exposure – an internal battle within Williams himself between the committed artist and the sexual being.
Though the haunted artist, his dealer and a wary bartender appear, the play belongs to the wife, and actress Linda Marlowe uses all her intensity, magnetism and subtlety to show us a strong and determined woman, not unaware that she is a little ridiculous, but achieving a kind of heroic grandeur in her war against time.
It is largely in this character, and Marlowe's performance, that we catch flashes of Williams at full power, most movingly in a soliloquy on the cruelty of time that would not be out of place on the lips of Blanche DuBois.
Given relatively little to do, David Whitworth (husband) and Alan Turkington (dealer) are not guided by director Robert Chevara to do more than little, though Andrew Koji generates some wry humour as the wary barman.
The play meanders, it wanders off into digressions, it is sometimes more confessional than work of art. But then someone refers to 'a diaphanous afternoon in August' and you are prepared to forgive Tennessee Williams anything.
Williams fans (and we are many) will want to take advantage of the rare opportunity to see this play, while others will discover a work that, with all its limitations, can still surprise you with its emotional power and haunt the memory as few other playwrights can.
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Review - In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel - Charing Cross Theatre 2016