Most writers go through a bleak period in their careers and Tennessee Williams was no exception. Too many bottles of booze, too many drugs. It’s hard to turn out award-winning stage drama when you’re struggling to get through a day.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel was a box office flop when it made its début in 1969 and it has largely been left in storage ever since. There’s a good reason for that. It stinks.
A new production opened last night at London’s Charing Cross Theatre and it did nothing to alter my opinion. As much as I love Williams, this was a low point in his remarkable career.
The first thing you notice about Robert Chevara’s turgid production is the stage with such a vertiginous rake that the cast almost need to wear crampons to prevent them unintentionally pitching forward. Anyone sitting in the front row probably developed a crick in their necks from craning upwards.
Bar is a peculiar play from the outset. Its writer has given protagonist Miriam huge chunks of dialogue, most of it pretentious twaddle, which actress Linda Marlowe spouts in great sound-bites with little finesse or even a half decent American accent. It’s less a performance and more a series of declarations and monologues.
Worse Williams has decided to try and be ultra clever and not finish sentences. The characters stop in mid sentence and leave you to fill in the blanks like a poorly constructed game show. I get his general idea that Miriam and her avant guard artist husband Mark are two halves of a whole but am not sure where the Japanese barman or gay art dealer fit into an equation with only two halves and not four quarters.
Miriam is In the Bar…and she’s boasting about her own zest for life, in-between flirting with the young barman (a nicely underplayed turn by Andrew Koji), groping him whenever he comes close to the table, and generally being one of those loud, obnoxious Americans that inhabit bars in overseas destinations which us Brits try to avoid like the plague.
She reveals that she carries a pill, cyanide we assume, which she intends to take when she’s had enough of living (there were a few of us in the first night audience that wished the moment would come pretty soon).
In staggers Mark (David Whitworth). He’s clearly ill. His hands shake uncontrollably and he, too, begins shouting out florid tripe about colour and light. The pair don’t seem to interact much at all but simply spit bile at each other.
Mark, covered in paint, is consumed with his art, which he’s creating in his hotel room, while his bored wife plans a trip sight-seeing.
I was left unmoved and unimpressed by both the story and the performances. What was Tennessee Williams, who has left the world some of its most colourful stage characters and dramas, trying to say? Whatever it was, it was lost on me. I left, needing a drink of my own in the bar of…..you know the rest.
At Charing Cross Theatre until May 14.
In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel
Pretentious, tedious and uninspiring, this revival of Tennessee Williams’ 1960s box office flop, In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, hasn’t improved with time.