Magazine article The Spectator

I Was Wrong

Magazine article The Spectator

I Was Wrong

Article excerpt

I was wrong

Lloyd Evans

The Hotel In Amsterdam


John Bull's Other Island


Some devotees of the theatre may know John Osborne backwards but for us layfolk he seems barely worth bothering about. His genius gave us - what? That rancid autobiography, a thuggish sourpuss called Jimmy Porter and a heavy-handed symbol for post-Suez Britain embodied by Archie Rice. The roles of Rice and Porter, despite being played on film by Olivier and Burton, leave a peculiar taste in the throat, the whiff of a clever but purposeless swindle, a stench of rotten roses. No, I never liked John Osborne. The ill-structured plays, the corrosive snobbery, and all those coarse, garrulous characters with their sighing and panting and weeping, their self-important hatreds and the sad attempts to start a bonfire of the vanities with a handful of damp twigs. Nor did I ever understand the 'revolution of 1956' at the Royal Court, an eruption so tepid as to prompt one mystified onlooker (Steven Berkoff) to comment, 'An ironing board? I mean, come on.'

You can probably guess where I'm heading. The surprise mid-column reverse. First you rip him to pieces, then you raise him from the dead, and, yes, I was astonished by The Hotel In Amsterdam, which is the work of a theatrical master. How could I have been so wrong? This is a challenging, risky and hilarious satire, slender on plot but brilliantly deft in its characterisation. The scenario is simple. A clique of friends, all employed by the same tyrannical movie producer, escape from London for a weekend in Amsterdam. They check in to a five-star hotel and sit around doing not very much except flirting, bitching, carping, drinking - and planning the next day's repetition of same. These affluent, weary-of-themselves sophisticates will not appeal to everyone. Osborne writes without restraint in his very own 'grand style', that is, in the meanest and most heartless tone of invective he can muster.

Early on, the central character, Laurie, calls his mother 'a turd'. A few moments later he announces, 'I would like to rape an air hostess.' Another character observes, 'People who need other people are the ghastliest people of all.' These comments are received in an atmosphere of waggish approbation, and here lies the play's daring and its appeal. Fully self-aware and reckless of all censorship, Osborne uses his venomous eloquence to examine the cheerless, self-orientated nature of the human spirit. …

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