Sunday, 8 March 2015

Theatre review: The Armour

Last year a trio of Tennessee Williams Hotel Plays was staged at the Langham, a luxury hotel just off Oxford Circus. 2015 is the hotel's 150-year anniversary, and after the success of last year's show, they commissioned the theatre company Defibrillator to return and commemorate it, but this time with a piece written specifically for this space. After running a competition to find a suitable play, the company settled on a pitch by Australian playwright Ben Ellis, which would look back at certain events that are unique to the Langham's history. The result is The Armour, a three-act-play which like the Williams shorts takes audiences around the building at half-hour intervals, moving upwards through the hotel's floors, while moving backwards through its history. So we begin in the present day, in one of the private basement bars where pop star Jade (Hannah Spearmint From Off Of S Club) has locked herself away when she's meant to be performing an arena gig.

When her manager Franky (Thomas Craig) is allowed in, he wants to know what's behind her sulk and finds a couple of very personal reasons.

Next we go back to 1973, when the hotel was being used by the BBC; but it's not that kind of 1970s BBC story we're getting. A 3rd-floor room has been converted into a grotty little recording studio, where an American businessman with big plans for the Docklands area has been asked to wait for his radio interview. Peter (Simon Darwen) waits with his wife Eloise (Siubhan Harrison) and the pair confront a problem that's gone unspoken for too long.

As well as the location, the three stories are linked by an old jacket, whose provenance comes in the final piece, lit by candles because we've gone back before the hotel installed electricity. In a seventh-floor suite in 1871, Charles, the Emperor Napoleon III (Sean Murray) stays in self-imposed exile with his wife Eugenie (Finty Williams,) who's trying to keep his spirits up as he attempts to write a history of his reign. But some of the anecdotes he mentions suggest he no longer has all his wits about him. Also, he's trying to write with a butter-knife.

This is the best part of a play that gets better as it goes on; James Hillier's production opens with lively performances but the scene is loaded with clichés of pop star life. The middle section is better, but the quietly moving candlelit finale was, for me, the highlight. The Armour is a good enough play that I think it would get by perfectly well staged in a regular theatre, but the setting certainly helps. It's not quite up to the Tennessee Williams standard but it's an interesting enough little journey into the past.

The Armour by Ben Ellis is booking until the 4th of April at the Langham Hotel.

Running time: 1 hour 25 minutes straight through.

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