Charing Cross Theatre, London (***)
Tennessee Williams `forgotten’, flawed 1969 play sits appropriately in what was once the Players’ Theatre, an auditorium with a faded charm in keeping with the atmosphere of this strange, haunted experiment.
Williams, influenced by his friendship with Japanese writer Yukio Mishima and a visit to Japan in the late ‘50s, tried his hand at incorporating the Japanese haiku into his dialogue, ending up with a string of staccato truncated exchanges – the beginning of a sentence half-finished, completed by the opposing speaker.
It makes for some awkward dialogue whilst feeding into the play’s combative emotional landscape between a dying American artist and his lonely, sexually frustrated wife.
Linda Marlowe would seem to be ideal casting for Miriam. Gaunt and stylish, with cheek bones that seem almost part of the action, Marlowe gives Miriam haughty dignity even as she gropes Andrew Koji’s polite Japanese barman in between outbursts of resentment over her failed marriage.
It’s an odd, statuesque portrait from Williams whose women, wreathed about in their author’s sometimes tortuous syntax can often seem unreal if poetically touching the heights. Miriam is one of his more outspoken, energised survivor-victims but still no match for Mark, the artist, struggling to bring a new form into being.
And it’s Mark’s agonising attempt to convey his creative excitement and terror that makes this curio worth the visit.
David Whitworth’s tremendous paint-spattered collapsing, egotistical life-force could hardly be a more exact portrait of Williams’ own creative terrors. Blank canvas – or blank page – the artistic urge – in Mark’s case entranced as if for the first time by light and colour – is expressed with blinding, animalistic fervour that recalls John Logan’s play about modernist, Mark Rothko (Red, Donmar, 2009).
Whitworth’s is a galvanising presence in a production by Robert Chevara enlivened by Nicolai Hart-Hansen’s luminous blue background screen and oozing paint backdrop.
One more for Williams connoisseurs than the casual drop-in tourist, it’s a hard 90 minutes with occasional bursts of wonderful insight.
`I’ve always stayed in the circle of light’, says Miriam. With the demise of her `burden’, Williams implies, the prospect of her having to step outside it may prove just as terrifying.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel is at the Charing Cross Theatre to May 14, 2016
Review first published in Reviewsgate, April 2016 and slightly amended here.