The Hotel In Amsterdam, Donmar Warehouse, London

Lounging around can be highly entertaining

In John Osborne's The Hotel in Amsterdam, it's not so much a case of looking back in anger as of lolling back in luxury. A far cry from Jimmy Porter's sweet stall and one-room flat in the Midlands, we've graduated here - as Osborne himself did - to the moneyed media set. Not seen in London since its premiere in 1968 and now revived in a superbly orchestrated production by Robin Lefevre, the play introduces us to three couples who have sneaked off for a secret weekend together. Their aim is to enjoy a much-needed respite from the inordinate demands of a monster film producer, K.L., who appears to dominate their lives.

Performed on Liz Ashcroft's sleek, art deco-ish set, the in-period production brings home how this must be one of the most bum-numbingly sedentary plays ever written. The friends - a screenwriter, a film editor, K.L.'s secretary and their various partners - just sit around and talk. The irony is that having travelled to Amsterdam to forget about K.L., they can't stop themselves speculating about him, especially Osborne's surrogate, the writer Laurie, who is played in a tour de force of bravura motormouth oikishness by Tom Hollander.

The strained bond between this character and K.L. is partly based on the tempestuous relationship between Osborne and the stage and film director Tony Richardson (former husband of Vanessa Redgrave). As the author's autobiography ebulliently illustrates, Richardson was inclined to manipulate people in a similarly machiavellian way, but it also records that he "penetrated my heart inexorably and however fiercely I tried to banish it, I would never be finally rid of its implant".

Hollander skilfully communicates the fact that it's when he has to retreat into scathing abuse that Laurie shows his love for K.L. most. For me, though, what should have been the deeply moving scene where Laurie declares his extra-marital devotion to Olivia Williams's admirably posh and pained Annie, demonstrates the deficiencies of his portrayal. We aren't made to feel sufficiently the underlying pain of the man or the tenderness that's screaming to get out.

Laurie's nasally whined arias of comic grievance and outrageous taboo-trampling are the major source of energy in the play. Whether fantasising about an airline exclusively marketed to homosexuals called El Fag or inventing The Golden Sanitary Towel Award for grizzling women, he does not aim to ingratiate.

Several of Osborne's familiar betes noires come out for a canter. When Laurie declaims that "I think my mother would have put me off women for life, I mean just to think of swimming about inside that repulsive thing for nine months", his touching filial piety is of a piece with that shown by the dramatist. Osborne was never more bracing than when charging down the fine line that divides the unsayable from the unspeakable. Written before political correctness was invented and just after the abolition of censorship, the play was in a prime position to give salutary offence, but I'm ashamed to say that I longed for the bad taste to soar into even headier spheres of disgracefulness.

What is a real revelation, though, is how this piece plays so much better than it reads. As the whisky flows, Laurie may stand and deliver at every opportunity but the drama is no one-man band or interrupted monologue, because the expertly played group dynamics continually alert you to the subtle undercurrents rippling beneath the show of unanimity. The suppose faults of construction, which are glaring on the page - the strategic late introduction of a barely existent character, and the "theatrical" 11th-hour announcement of devastating news - simply dissolve as problems on the stage. Towards the end, the atmosphere becomes haunted by a fear of the future that now cannot be allayed by the defensive solidarity of this band of friends. For the excellence of the ensemble acting and the surprising stage-worthiness of the piece, this Hotel is well worth checking into.

To 15 November (0870 060 6624)

Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks