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The Hotel in Amsterdam

John Osborne
Donmar Warehouse
(2003)

Everybody who has seen Look Back in Anger knows what John Osborne was like as a young man. There can be little doubt that Jimmy Porter is based on the writer.

Similarly, in Robin Lefevre's revival of Osborne's 1968 black comedy, Tom Hollander as the brash, hard-drinking Laurie has been made up to look like Osborne and Susannah Harker, playing his pregnant wife Margaret resembles Jill Bennett.

The Hotel in Amsterdam takes place in the suite shared by three couples who have fled the invisible K.L., apparently based on theatre and film director Tony Richardson. He is described as both a monster and a dinosaur and is the kind of control freak who is not willing to let his assistants off the leash for even a moment.

Liz Ashcroft's stylish set and impeccably garish costumes denote the time perfectly. The spacious living-room also serves another purpose as it shows us that Laurie-Osborne has hit the big time financially and can afford to put up his friends in the very best style. In return, they must withstand his often abusive verbal torrents.

While Laurie orchestrates events, like Porter he relies on others, the faithful and remarkably organised Amy (Selina Griffiths) and Anthony Calf's loyal but rather dim Gus, for every physical activity. There is a single exception, he happily pours copious glasses of whisky for both himself and others. He also pours liberal quantities of invective over the company, often ruthlessly picking at their weaknesses. Because they know and love him, he is forgiven far more often than he deserves.

The play rises above autobiographical representation of the author in his pomp when his sister-in-law appears bringing her own woes. She instantly returns the party to the mundane realities that they thought that they had escaped. Suddenly, Laurie becomes more sympathetic as he quietly declares his love for Annie (Olivia Williams) who immediately and tearfully reciprocates, like an iceberg melting.

The denouement occurs when following the unexpected appearance of potentially disastrous love, shocking news arrives from London and instantly sobers the company. What had started off as a drawling one-man rant finally becomes something deeper as Osborne exposes himself to quite startling effect.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher