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Hotel in Amsterdam

By • West End
WOS Rating:
In 1956, John Osborne's Look Back in Anger, the original kitchen sink drama, dropped a working class bomb on the upper class pretensions of post-war British theatre and, in the process, left its author forever bearing the label 'angry young man'.

A dozen years later, while 1968's The Hotel in Amsterdam may not have had the same impact - and in fact, on the surface, seems like it owes more to the Cowardesque canon that Osborne earlier displaced - it finds its author still resolutely licking open sores of anger and disappointment.

Three couples - rich, film industry friends whose London lives are ruled by a universally loathed "dinosaur film producer", the omnipresent KL - flee to Amsterdam for a weekend's respite. From Friday to Sunday, the play unfolds in the drawing room of their shared hotel suite, where the alcohol and conversation flows freely.

And that's about it. A few minor relationship revelations and some not entirely unexpected news from London aside, not a lot happens in this Dutch Hotel. If only the incessantly discussed KL would show up and create some excitement. If only the characters would indulge their longed-for infidelities. If only they'd go out and buy some drugs - they are in Amsterdam for goodness sake. Anything.

But this is a 'talk play', as a friend describes it, and much of the talk is pure tedium, engaged in by largely unsympathetic toffs. At least one acknowledges that "I suppose we're all what's called spoiled" while two others argue over who really is the most boring man in the world. "Is this boring?" Yes. Which no doubt goes a long way in explaining why the piece is so rarely revived.

And yet, in Robin Lefevre's stylish if static production, there are rewards, the biggest of them coming in the diminutive form of Tom Hollander. Laurie - the class-vaulted but still unfulfilled and anchorless, nearly 40 screenwriter, modelled on Osborne himself, a sort of Jimmy Porter, Mk ii - is a battered and bruised peach of a part, and Hollander sucks every last drop of juice from it with his virtuoso performance.

Dangling a bottle of Cutty Sark, he reels and rails around the stage, mimicking foreigners, telling jokes about nuns and generally bemoaning his lot in life. A bore he may be, but Hollander's Laurie is still the life and soul of the party. His hilariously bitter recollection of a letter from a grasping relative should be preserved in aspic for future generations. Excellent.

The other characters are little more than window dressing to Laurie's main attraction, though it must be said, both Susannah Harker's haughty Margaret and Olivia Williams's wounded Annie look stunning and period perfect with it.

- Terri Paddock


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