BWW Review: IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL, Charing Cross, April 11 2016
Miriam sits at her table and flirts with the barman, partly because that's what Miriam does, partly to relieve the ennui that suffocates any international hotel and partly to convince herself that she can still do it after all these years. Her husband, Mark, is painting in his room, but on arrival, it's clear that his revelatory experiences with colour are the result of the same brain tumour that knocks him off his feet every time he tries to walk more than a few strides. When Miriam calls for the support of his dealer, Leonard, he flies in but neither he nor her seem willing to help their meal ticket after years of growing apart.
Tennessee Williams' In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel (continuing at Charing Cross Theatre until 14 May) is hardly his most commercial nor successful work, its intensity and ambiguity not exactly mainstream material, but it fascinates with its unflinching portrayal of selfishness late in life. Linda Marlowe gives a bravura performance as Miriam, on stage throughout the play, at her best teasing the barman (a nice turn by Andrew Koji) into reluctant unprofessionalism. As the men in her life, Alan Turkington's Leonard is sweatily nervous about losing Alan (maybe that's deliberate, but the theatre was so hot, it might not have been - this is Williams' Tokyo, not St Louis, so the heat need not be on) and David Whitworth convinces in his incipient madness as Mark, splattered with paint one minute and covered in shaving cuts the next as his brain refuses to direct his body.
There's always an audience for the kind of misery attendant on people grown apart, and there's an acidity to the language and nuance in the acting that lifts this material well above a storyline in an upmarket soap opera. But, call me old-fashioned if you will, I couldn't warm to any of the characters: Miriam is a flirt, but she's a bully too; Mark is too far gone to allow us to see the person beneath the histrionics; Leonard is more interested in financing his coke habit than looking after his client. Only the unnamed barman, fiercely protecting the dignity of his labour, feels rounded as a person, but we never get to know him.
Miriam comes to understand that Mark meant more to her than simply the man who signed the cheques too late to do anything about it - perhaps there's a more engaging play to be written about how she adjusts to that new life, but we'll never know.
Photo Scott Rylander