Defibrillator Theatre’s The Hotel Plays are set in the extremely glamourous Langham hotel, which one of my theatre buddies repeatedly informs me is Europe’s first Grand Hotel. Everything about the hotel is immaculate and decadent, and it’s a wonderful setting to invoke the atmosphere of the – fairly wealthy and white –deep South Americana that Tennessee Williams wrote of.
The evening consists of three of Tennessee William’s lesser-known one act plays – The Pink Bedroom, Green Eyes, and Sunburst – all of which are set in hotels (see what they did there?) Three hotel rooms are visited, and in each actors wait for your arrival to begin their play. As soon as one ends, you are expertly ushered to the next room.
This is definitely more site-specifc than totally immersive – although your guide acknowledges you and communicates with you, the actors are oblivious to your presence, and you sit or stand in pre-designated seating areas which are clearly not part of the room’s natural make up.
Over the course of the evening we meet a mistress who wishes to break up with her married boyfriend—for reasons that only become abundantly clear with a delightful surprise at the end of the play—a potentially mismatched set of newlyweds, and a tough old Southern Belle whom two younger men set out to rob and kill.
There are hits and misses with the actors, and unfortunately one of the misses for me was that the accents were not all quite up to scratch. Whilst Southern accents are admittedly tricky at the best of times, a few of the attempts left me flinching.
The hits lie in some of the casting. The women are delightful – Helen George and Carol MacReady are wonderful in roles playing clever, strong women – particularly because their characters don’t come across that way from the beginning of the scene.
Aisling Loftus as the young, naïve, and scheming newly wed bride in Green Eyes is the favourite of our entire group. She plays a role which initially feels rather like that of a victim, but when the odds begin to be stacked against her she absolutely shines in her bold combativeness against a suddenly hapless husband. This scene is also the group’s favourite of the three, as it opens up the most debate and discussion afterwards.
There is a lovely trick with lighting beyond the curtains which gives the room a really muggy feel, and adds well to the illusion of the hungover newlyweds hiding away from the staunch New Orleans heat we believe to be outside – as well as is partially in the room.
It has to be mentioned that the heat in the rooms is stifling. This could be an ode to the sticky heat of the South in the summer – but could equally be that the air conditioning is turned down so as to not drown out the performance. Either way, don’t wear a jumper. A healthy-looking 30 something man has to step out of the first performance after being affected by the heat.
Apart from the heat and my concerns about some of the accents (which is more or less a natural critique from an American, albeit one from North of the Mason-Dixon line), this is really lovely theatre. There can be no critique of the writing of Williams, and the use of the hotel rooms as convincing sets is just wonderful. There’s glamour, there’s nostalgia, and there is a lovely feeling of having stepped straight into the story by sharing the hotel room with its acting inhabitants. That each play also contains a rather lovely twist to it provides a lovely evening of surprises, and this is absolutely worth seeing.
See the plays until March 15th by booking here, and make sure you show up on the night you bought tickets for. That sounds obvious, but I accidentally led my group to turn up on the night before. We ended up coming back the next night, but I was impressed by the production company’s attempts to accommodate our (okay, my) mistake.