'Your room is along the corridor and on the right, the Amber Suite', we are told. On reaching the assigned door it is closed. Should we go straight in? Should we knock? A slow hesitant opening of the door reveals a lounge area, curious looks from those already in residence on the sofas or at the dining table. Some are talking quietly, others are playing with their phones. We spot a space on the window ledge and perch. There is an air of anticipation among the 28 of us in this May Fair Hotel suite.
Then Tobias Menzies appears through a connecting door. He is barefoot and wears a T-Shirt and lounge pants. Silence descends. He looks around the room with something very close to recognition in his face as he catches people's eyes and then he starts talking.
Wallace Shawn's play The Fever is, as this staging might suggest set in a hotel room. The hotel room of the play however is in an unnamed foreign country. It's a poor country, that we learn and Menzies' Man is ill. He describes how his body is shaking and sweating and vomiting but the substance of the dialogue is a man's feverish thoughts. Prostate on the bathroom floor his mind wanders through his past, his childhood and having seen quite a bit of the world he muses on inequality between the rich and poor.
But it isn't so much the play that makes this a remarkable piece of theatre, it is the setting. This is about as intimate as you can get. The surroundings so un-theatre-like it is disconcerting and yet comforting at the same time.
There is a tray full of glasses of wine set out on the side board - could we have helped ourselves to a glass or should we have we ponder afterwards?
At one point Menzies was talking directly to me and I found myself nodding as if in regular conversation, there was such a temptation to speak. It is easy to forget yourself and theatre etiquette in this environment it seems. He wanders the room as if among a group of friends, perching on the window sill or the side board or leaning against a wall arms folded.
Then he disappears through the door he came in but leaves it open, inviting. Again there is that awkwardness of what to do. There is no change in lighting, no overt signs of anyone connected to the theatre, it is just 'us' in the room. The theatre audience rule book has well and truly been thrown out of the tastefully draped window.
We follow. Eventually. It is the bedroom with en suite bathroom beyond. An unmade bed, shoes and socks careless discarded on the floor. It is a smaller space, even more intimate. Some people sit on the floor. At one point he reaches behind someone to open an window while not even breaking flow. A woman moves away from the draft to another spot which, again, seems to break the theatre code of conduct and yet feels OK in this setting.
He plays with the dimmer switch by the bed, he fiddles with a sheet of toilet paper, rolling it across the floor to illustrate a point. The pillows are rearranged in the same way. And then he leaves through another connecting door. This time the door is left closed. We applaud but he doesn't return. The spell if there was one to start with remains unbroken.
The Fever is something that I'll remember for being a unique experience, an intimate and personal experience that was too much for one woman who left after 20 minutes, unable to look at Menzies let alone catch his eye. It is a play I'll remember for the audience as much as its content. It is a play that is slightly over shadowed by its setting but then I'm not sure anyone could concentrate on every single word.
It is a play I'll remember for being relaxed, informal and yet tense at the same time. It is a play that felt just as much about the audience as it did about its character. It is a play I will remember.
The Fever runs as the May Fair Hotel until Feb 7. It is sold out but tickets do occasionally become available on the website or you can try queuing for returns. The running time is around 100 minutes and a few people may have to stand for half the performance.
Tobias Menzies was in Daniel Craig Bond movie Casino Royale and Mr W was in Skyfall and is due to appear in Spectre later this year (he's also been in three other things with DC)