The Hotel in Amsterdam, Donmar Warehouse, London

A Woman of No Importance, Haymarket Theatre Royal, London

The Recruiting Officer, Garrick, Lichfield

Charming, funny ... and totally vile

Michael Grandage's master plan as the Donmar's artistic director has been to bring overlooked modern classics to our attention. This has paid off at last, quite brilliantly, with A Hotel in Amsterdam. This long-forgotten 1968 play by John Osborne comes across as a small but perfectly crafted gem in Robin Lefèvre's superb revival.

Admittedly, if the acting was less fine-tuned, this city-break drama could seem slight as Osborne serves up two hours of talking with little action. Having given their demanding boss the slip for the weekend, three couples who work in the British film industry check into a chic suite in the Dutch capital. Considering the date and location you might expect this to degenerate into a collectively steamy affair if not a sex farce.

Yet what is quietly gripping about the scenario is that everybody just sits around, ordering more and more Scotch but never quite having the devastating row that's brewing. In fact, they mostly just listen to Tom Hollander's Laurie, a successful, egocentric and vituperative scriptwriter who has much in common with Osborne: he mouths off entertainingly and outrageously about his many obsessions including air hostesses and homosexuals, his monstrous mother and the boss, KL (a fictionalised version of Tony Richardson, Osborne's ex-flatmate and the original director of Look Back in Anger).

One or two of Laurie's speeches would benefit from cuts but essentially this is a subtly shaped, bleak slice of life which - unlike Look Back in Anger - never feels creaky. Maybe Hollander could lose his grip with more inner desperation, but he effortlessly captures Laurie's mix of working-class bullishness and poshed-up arrogance. He is charmingly funny and simultaneously vile, with a disturbing glint in his eye - even when he privately declares his love to Olivia Williams' arch but emotionally shaky Annie. Though Hollander doesn't remotely resemble the elongated Osborne, this pint-sized bitter imp somehow encapsulates the playwright's quintessence or self-image. Moreover, the minutely observed naturalism of the whole ensemble alerts you - through little pauses and ambivalent silent looks - to all the complex class tensions and potential loathing beneath the surface. Susannah Harker is frighteningly cool as Laurie's imperious Sloaney girlfriend, gazing ahead as he habitually strokes her arm. Anthony Calf's limp public-school Gus and Adrian Bower's long-haired Dan aren't as hilariously foolish or mellow as they seem either.

Laurie - laughing off his effeminate side - says he is always being taken for Oscar Wilde when in America. Over at the Haymarket, the two most interesting things about Adrian Noble's revival of A Woman of No Importance are the surprising parallels with Osborne's play and how Wilde's personality appears to be refracted into several of his own characters, male and female. Lord Illingworth is strikingly like Laurie as well as Oscar: a devilish wit who's been embraced by the upper classes because he's outrageously amusing. That said, the crude misogyny of Laurie is very different from the tight-lipped Victorian condemnation of "fallen women". Wilde takes a stand against sexist hypocrisy in this portrait of an essentially good single mother, Mrs Arbuthnot, who hides her past from her son, Gerald, and aristocratic neighbour, Lady Hunstanton, until Illingworth shows up like a bad penny.

In many ways this is a B-rate play, with epigrammatic repartee giving way to melodrama and sentimentality, but it's fascinating on an autobiographical level. One is strongly reminded that Wilde was an Irish outsider amongst English aristocrats, both by Illingworth's order-challenging quips and the meritocratic American character, Hester, who furiously criticises those who snub her. There's also an implicit psychological battle going on within Wilde as he condemns the amoral Illingworth, defends Mrs Arbuthnot as if she were on trial for her sexually unorthodox life, and tussles with Hester's imbued religious beliefs about carnal sin.

Unfortunately, none of that makes up for a lot of second-rate acting in showy period cossies. The suspicion that Noble has sold-out to tacky West End values is not a welcome addition to this play about true worth and compromise. Prunella Scales's Lady Hunstanton is particularly lamentable, fluffing numerous lines and Julian Ovenden's permanently grinning Gerald is excruciatingly slushy. Three performances, mercifully, save the day. Samantha Bond invests Mrs Arbuthnot with true passion. Joanne Pearce's Mrs Allonby is potently risqué, and Rupert Graves's suave, flippant Illingworth becomes chillingly determined to wrest Gerald from his mother.

Finally, a footnote on The Recruiting Officer. The Garrick is a brand new, redbrick and sheet-glass regional theatre. Though its bright airy foyers lack character, the auditorium is snug with a small proscenium arch. George Farquhar's 18th-century comedy about a dashing soldier combines romance with a gritty portrait of military corruption, and Owen Sharpe's Sergeant Kite is a hard-bitten rogue with real ferocity. However, James Hillier's Captain Plume appears to have no swash to buckle and Annie Castledine's production is peculiarly feeble. One hopes her co-director Corin Redgrave - playing a cameo role as bragging Captain Brazen - is enough to encourage the locals to sign up as regular theatregoers.

k.bassett@independent.co.uk

'The Hotel in Amsterdam': Donmar, London WC2 (020 7369 1732), to 15 Nov; 'A Woman of No Importance': Haymarket Theatre Royal, London SW1 (0870 901 3356), to 31 Jan

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Fans were left surprised by the death on Sunday night's season 26 premiere

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Watson has become the latest target of the 4Chan nude hacking scandal

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lady Mary goes hunting with suitor Lord Gillingham

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Dunne, played by Ben Affleck, finds himself at the centre of a media storm when his wife is reported missing and assumed dead

film
Arts and Entertainment
Lindsay Lohan made her West End debut earlier this week in 'Speed-the-Plow'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Artist Nathan Sawaya stands with his sculpture 'Yellow' at the Art of Brick Exhibition

art
Arts and Entertainment
'Strictly Come Dancing' attracted 6.53 million viewers on Friday
tv
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant plays Detective Emmett Carver in the US version on Broadchurch

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor goes undercover at Coal Hill School in 'The Caretaker'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Ni , Rock of Rah, Vanuatu: The Ni live on one of the smallest islands of Vanuatu; Nelson flew five hours from Sydney to capture the 'isolation forged by their remoteness'
photographyJimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style
Arts and Entertainment
David Byrne
musicDavid Byrne describes how the notorious First Lady's high life dazzled him out of a career low
Arts and Entertainment
Sergeant pfeffer: Beatles in 1963
booksA song-by-song survey of the Beatles’ lyrics
Arts and Entertainment
music'I didn't even know who I was'
Arts and Entertainment
Cheryl was left in a conundrum with too much talent and too few seats during the six-chair challenge stage
tvReview: It was tension central at boot camp as the ex-Girls Aloud singer whittled down the hopefuls
Arts and Entertainment
Kalen Hollomon's Anna Wintour collage

art
Arts and Entertainment

TV Grace Dent on TV
Arts and Entertainment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

music
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer is believed to be playing a zombie wife in Patient Zero

film
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Gatiss says Benedict Cumberbatch oozes sex appeal with his 'Byronic looks' and Sherlock coat
tv
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.

    Ebola outbreak: The children orphaned by the virus – then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection

    The children orphaned by Ebola...

    ... then rejected by surviving relatives over fear of infection
    Pride: Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    Are censors pandering to homophobia?

    US film censors have ruled 'Pride' unfit for under-16s, though it contains no sex or violence
    The magic of roundabouts

    Lords of the rings

    Just who are the Roundabout Appreciation Society?
    Why do we like making lists?

    Notes to self: Why do we like making lists?

    Well it was good enough for Ancient Egyptians and Picasso...
    Hong Kong protests: A good time to open a new restaurant?

    A good time to open a new restaurant in Hong Kong?

    As pro-democracy demonstrators hold firm, chef Rowley Leigh, who's in the city to open a new restaurant, says you couldn't hope to meet a nicer bunch
    Paris Fashion Week: Karl Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'

    Paris Fashion Week

    Lagerfeld leads a feminist riot on 'Boulevard Chanel'
    Bruce Chatwin's Wales: One of the finest one-day walks in Britain

    Simon Calder discovers Bruce Chatwin's Wales

    One of the finest one-day walks you could hope for - in Britain
    10 best children's nightwear

    10 best children's nightwear

    Make sure the kids stay cosy on cooler autumn nights in this selection of pjs, onesies and nighties
    Manchester City vs Roma: Five things we learnt from City’s draw at the Etihad

    Manchester City vs Roma

    Five things we learnt from City’s Champions League draw at the Etihad
    Martin Hardy: Mike Ashley must act now and end the Alan Pardew reign

    Trouble on the Tyne

    Ashley must act now and end Pardew's reign at Newcastle, says Martin Hardy
    Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

    Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

    and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

    The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
    Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

    Last chance to see...

    The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
    So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

    Truth behind teens' grumpiness

    Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

    Hacked photos: the third wave

    Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?