According to The Guardian, The Armour “captures the erotic intensity of hotel plays”. It’s given three stars out of five, so well done!
This is the second time Defibrillator have taken us on a trip through this luxury London hotel. Last year, they gave us three short plays by Tennessee Williams. Now Ben Ellis has come up with a piece picking out three key moments that mark the building’s 150-year history and deal with power regained, sacrificed and irretrievably lost. It makes for an entertaining, if uneven, construct.
We start in 2015 with a temperamental pop star who is hiding herself away in a swish bar and being cajoled by her manager into facing her expectant fans. The next segment whisks us back to 1973 when the Langham – as I all too clearly remember – was used by the BBC as a recording studio. Here we watch a nervy American shipping magnate as he decides whether to go ahead with a broadcast about his plans to decimate London’s docks, or walk out and save his marriage. Finally, we end up in 1871 and the spectacle of Napoleon III, along with the Empress Eugenie, reconciling himself to exile and the loss of an empire.
Other writers – notably Neil Simon in Plaza Suite – have shown how hotels can be a source of drama. Like Simon, Ellis ingeniously links his three plays, here through the presence of a stonemason’s jacket that enabled Louis Napoleon to escape from prison. Much as I enjoyed the journey from room to room, along with James Hillier’s production and the performances of Sean Murray and Finty Williams as bereft imperialists and Hannah Spearritt as a flaky pop diva, it is the central play that stands out. It crams in too many issues – from economic decline to the legacy of Vietnam – but as played by Simon Darwen and Siubhan Harrison, it has an erotic intensity that is, I suspect, one of the real reasons we’re drawn to hotel-room plays.