Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Armour; the Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: The Armour; the Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco

Article excerpt

The Armour

Langham Hotel, until 4 April

The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco

Gate Theatre, until 21 March

One of last year's unexpected treasures was a novelty show by Defibrillator that took three neglected Tennessee Williams plays, all set in hotel rooms, and staged them in suites at a five-star dosshouse in central London. The Langham Hotel, an antique hulk of marble and glass overlooking Broadcasting House, is justly proud of its raffish literary history. Arthur Conan Doyle once met Oscar Wilde there for a chinwag and a cup of tea and by the time the bill arrived they'd conceived a fictional detective named Holmes.

The Langham's management is keen for Defibrillator to repeat last year's success but how? Search the archive for more plays set in hotels? Dramatise a short story with a hotel location? Commission some brand-new inn-based drama? Defibrillator plumped for option three. And it's immediately apparent what's missing: Tennessee Williams and the peculiar harmony between his artistic sensibility and the hotel location. A five-star hotel complements and makes sense of Williams's world. Posh hotels thrum with isolated melancholy, with decadent rootlessness, with a sense of inner anguish masked by the genteel veil of opulent living.

The commissioned writer, Ben Ellis, has written three playlets and the first is set around about now. An uppity pop princess sulks in her suite while tens of thousands of fans howl and beg for her at some nearby stadium. Enter her kindly, snowy-haired manager who attempts to talk her out of her strike. He's a father figure who may also be her lover, her ex-lover or her future lover. Or none of the above. It's not entirely clear. The story is well suited to the faded crimson glamour of the subterranean suite but it crashes and burns just as it seems to be taking off.

The next venue, six flights up, is a kiosk-sized room bearing the signature tint of the 1970s: Ovaltine. The space is arranged as a recording studio with creaky reel-to-reel tape machines. It's quite a puzzle, this play. Time: 1973. The studio is occupied by an American couple, Peter and Eloise, awaiting an interview on the topic of mechanised shipping -- what else? -- with particular reference to the feasibility of imposing a new remote-controlled system on London's dockyards. That's quite a lot of weird detail to cram into a 20-minute play but Ellis also wants to explore Peter's gay infidelities and his unresolved bitterness over a family death in Vietnam. …

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