The Armour

Ben Ellis
The Langham Hotel

It is not a common theatrical event that of experiencing the ambience of a luxurious hotel in central London, full of history and full of stories to be told.

The Langham Hotel claims a long-standing relationship with writers of the like of Conan Doyle, Noël Coward and W Somerset Maugham. Under the creative direction of Defibrillator theatre company, the Langham chose Ben Ellis, Australian playwright now based in London, from hundreds of submissions to an open competition meant to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the hotel.

The play that won the competition The Armour is the last in the sequence of three, all written by Ellis, staged in the rooms of the hotel. Primeval star and ex-member of the pop group S Club 7, Hannah Spearritt joins the cast of this promising theatrical event.

If the charm of being guided through the different environments of this majestic hotel is certainly second to none, one cannot say that transforming the rooms to small studio spaces and arranging three sets of shows one following the other is an easy enterprise. And it is one that the creative team does impeccably.

Yet the rest, the stories, the writing, does not always live up to expectations: Ellis opts for a two-hander format in all the three plays that potentially could see some intense dramatic moments. This is not always the case.

The first of the three plays is unfortunately not a good start. Set in the present, Spearritt is Jade, a capricious super-star who refuses to perform at her own concert. She teases and confronts her poor manager (Thomas Craig) who tries to persuade her otherwise.

Jade is a colourless character, not disturbed enough to make her whim amusing, not sound enough to make her decision more profound. The writing and the acting lack in intensity and punchlines fall flat creating a loop that seems to repeat itself till the end tries to induce some positivity and hope.

The second play, set in the '70s, lifts the stakes a little presenting Peter, an American businessman and his wife at the eve of his interview for the BBC where he will reveal his plans to transform the Docklands for ever.

There is much chemistry betweem Simon Darwen, playing Peter, and Siobhan Harrison, playing the wife. Their powerful performance makes up for a storyline that verges slightly into the pathetic as the real intention behind Peter’s business masterplan is revealed.

The third, the original of the three plays, is definitely the most accomplished in both acting and writing terms. We travel back in time, in 1870, with Napoleon the Third in exile with his wife.

There are some lyrical moments between Napoleon’s regret and forgetfulness—he seems to show some signs of dementia—and his wife who accompanies him in his nostalgic journeys of remembrance and recrimination.

Flinty Williams and Sean Murray are highly articulate and perform with elegance and gracefulness. It is an intimate space at candlelight that recreates a sense of a past long gone.

A lot has been invested in this project that makes it a fascinating experience with the hope that more and better will come after it.

Reviewer: Mary Mazzilli

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