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
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment
Relocation, relocation: Zawe Ashton travels the pathway to Northampton
Arts and Entertainment
BBC Three was launched a little over five years ago with the slogan: “Three, is a magic number, yes it is.”

BBC Trust agrees to axe channel from TV in favour of digital move

TV
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Armie Hammer in the new film of ‘The Lone Ranger’

TV
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

    An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

    Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

    The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
    How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

    Heavy weather

    What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
    World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

    World Bodypainting Festival 2015

    Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
    alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

    Don't call us nerds

    Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
    How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

    How to find gold

    Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
    Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

    Not born in the USA

    Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
    10 best balsamic vinegars

    10 best balsamic vinegars

    Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
    Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

    Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
    Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

    Greece referendum

    Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
    Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

    7/7 bombings anniversary

    Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

    Versace haute couture review

    Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
    No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

    No hope and no jobs in Gaza

    So the young risk their lives and run for it
    Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

    Fashion apps

    Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy