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)

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth McGovern as Cora, Countess of Grantham and Richard E Grant as Simon Bricker

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Art
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard, nicknamed by the press as 'Dirty Diana'

Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
The X Factor 2014 judges: Simon Cowell, Cheryl Cole, Mel B and Louis Walsh

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace was caught by a camera van driving 32mph over the speed limit

TV
Arts and Entertainment
books
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Iain reacts to his GBBO disaster

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Outlaw Pete is based on an eight-minute ballad from Springsteen’s 2009 Working on a Dream album

books
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012

film
Arts and Entertainment
Simon Cowell is less than impressed with the Strictly/X Factor scheduling clash

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Gothic revival: artist Dave McKean’s poster for Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination
Exhibition
Arts and Entertainment
Diana Beard has left the Great British Bake Off 2014

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Lisa Kudrow, Courtney Cox and Jennifer Anniston reunite for a mini Friends sketch on Jimmy Kimmel Live

TV
Arts and Entertainment
TVDessert week was full of the usual dramas as 'bingate' ensued
Arts and Entertainment
Clara and the twelfth Doctor embark on their first adventure together
TVThe regulator received six complaints on Saturday night
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Arts and Entertainment
David Baddiel concedes his show takes its inspiration from the hit US series 'Modern Family'
comedyNew comedy festival out to show that there’s more to Jewish humour than rabbi jokes
Arts and Entertainment
Puff Daddy: One Direction may actually be able to use the outrage to boost their credibility

music
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.

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

    'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

    US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
    Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

    Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
    Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    James Frey's literary treasure hunt

    Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

    What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

    Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
    Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

    The big names to look for this fashion week

    This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
    Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

    Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

    Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Al Pacino wows Venice

    Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
    Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

    Neil Lawson Baker interview

    ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering