Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Robert Chevara: In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel

By | Published on Thursday 31 March 2016


I’m sure you are all very familiar with many of the works of the late great Tennessee Williams, but there haven’t been very many productions of his 1969 play ‘In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel’, so I doubt you have seen it. You’ll get the chance when it’s staged – starring the brilliant Linda Marlowe – at Charing Cross Theatre this month.
To find out more about the play, how it’s different from the playwright’s earlier works, and why it’s been a bit neglected, I spoke to the show’s director, Robert Chevara.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the plot of ‘In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel’? Where does the story take us?
RC: Mark is a world famous artist. He and his wife Miriam are caught in a bond of need and hatred. She played midwife to his incredible career, but now wants to leave, afraid that Mark is in the grip of a breakdown and that he can no longer paint. The scene is set for a savage and witty dance of death in Tennessee Williams’ autobiographical examination of creativity and the envy of success.

CM: I get the sense that this play is quite different in style to the rest of Tennessee Williams’ oeuvre – in what way?
RC: It really is quite different! The earlier plays are linear, whereas the later are largely experimental. I think that’s why the critics at the time reacted with such bewilderment and incomprehension at Williams’ new departure. Mark and Miriam are a couple who have come to a terrible impasse in their relationship. Their sparring is the language of people who can no longer communicate, nor understand one another. With hindsight the experimentation in this work is not its weakness, it is its greatest strength.

CM: What do you think the playwright was trying to achieve with this departure?
RC: He was trying to create a new vocabulary and a theatrical language rich in allusion. The language is sometimes cubist in form and is the poetic equivalent of Mark’s painting.

CM: Why revive the play now? How relevant will it be for today’s audiences?
RC: I think 45 years after its initial premiere this play will show how truly modern and forward looking this is. This is the best time to revive the play. We are now an audience used to the likes of Sarah Kane, Mark Ravenhill and Harold Pinter – writers who play with language and style to create totally their own worlds. Williams does this too.

CM: This is only the second time it’s been produced in London, isn’t it? Why do you think it’s not been picked up more often?
RC: No-one understood what Williams was trying to do and achieve when the play was first presented. So it had a reputation for being “difficult”. People often want to see whatever an artist has become famous for replicated. They don’t want someone to move onto something new, and prefer their older work. So many audiences and critics prefer to see ‘The Glass Menagerie’ or ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, but ‘Bar’ is daring, compassionate, funny and brave. And like all great works of art, it is complex and multi layered.

CM: What made you want to direct this play?
RC: I read it many, many years ago and thought it was a masterpiece. I couldn’t understand why no-one had taken the challenge to direct and produce this amazing play.

CM: Are you a fan of Tennessee Williams’ work in general?
RC: Yes, I am. He’s one of my huge obsessions. I saw ‘Streetcar’ with Claire Bloom when I was 14 years old and ‘Vieux Carrè’ with Sylvia Miles and Sheila Gish when I was about 16 years old. I was hooked. I felt he spoke to me personally, which I think is probably everyone’s experience! As with all great writers, the more you delve into his world and work, the more the characters blaze and you understand their desires, hopes and despair. The plays are funny and humane too. I directed ‘The Glass Menagerie’ many years ago and in 2012 an acclaimed sell-out production of ‘Vieux Carré’, also at Charing Cross Theatre.

CM: Can you tell us a bit about the cast for this production?
RC: I am very excited to work for the first time with the great actress Linda Marlowe. I have admired her for years and jumped at the chance of working with her. She knew ‘Bar’ already, and loved it too. She brings a subtle eroticism, humour and bite to the part of Miriam. David Whitworth, who plays Mark, is an actor I regularly work with. He was Nightingale in my production of ‘Vieux Carré’. He imbues Mark with great vulnerability and a Leonine vitality. Linda and David work wonderfully well together too and really spark off one another.

CM: Obviously, the upcoming run will be foremost, but what’s coming up next for you?
RC: I am directing three new plays after this! New work is the lifeblood of theatre, and it’s always a vital and exciting partnership. The first play I’m directing is at the Arcola in July and called ‘AG’ by JJ Bibby. It’s a rollercoaster dark ride about identity and lies. And the second play is by Alexis Gregory, a constant collaborator, called ‘Safe’. We premiered this at the Soho Theatre last year and it’s about the plight of LGBT homeless youth. It’s on in October at London Theatre Workshop. And the third is in the USA at the beginning of 2017. ‘Bar’, though, Tennessee Williams’ brilliant, funny, daring play, will take some following!

‘In The Bar Of A Tokyo Hotel’ is on at Charing Cross Theatre from 4 Apr-14 May. See this page here for more info and to book.