The Hotel Cerise at the Theatre Royal Stratford East Bonnie Greer’s adaption of Chekhov’s, The Cherry Orchid is an interesting story but unfortunately very difficult to keep up with.
Beginning with a super fast pace, we saw the entire cast pacing around stage evoking a busy but natural environment; setting the scene of a posh hotel – the concierge, the handyman, the guests with each character introducing themselves rather bizarrely. An abstract entrance when the curtain went up from “Fielding” played by Michael Berstenshaw, then a breaking the 4th wall moment from “Josiah Tripp” played by El Anthony, who eventually revealed who everyone else was by giving a small monologue of each character’s background. This was Anthony’s only contact with us, which I found confusing as usually the narrator has the spotlight more than once! The grandest entrance came from our leading lady, “Anita Lily Mountjoy Sinclaire Thimutu” played by top dog actress Ellen Thomas (EastEnders, Rev, Teachers).
Things started to become slightly clearer in ACT 2 when Anita broke down her story and the reason behind why this occasion at the hotel was taking place. She and her brother “Augustus Leon Mountjoy” (Nicholas Beveney – Hard Time Bus) had started their life at the Hotel Cerise, a family heirloom full of black history. From when it was a haven to black superstars during the glamorous Jazz Era, going even further back to when it was a plantation once home to slave owners. Anita was determined to make it her home again and live peacefully with her two daughters “Chirlane” (Madeline Appiah – In The Next Room) and “Lorraine” (Claire Prempeh – A Street Car Named Desire). But things were much more complex, as her past haunted her and the future of the Cerise was on thin ice.
There was way too much movement throughout the duration of the play and so many narratives to follow, it all seemed to jumble up until suddenly a huge earthquake rocks the hotel and changed the mood entirely. The earthquake led to the arrival of the spirit of a slave played by Angela Wynter (EastEnders, Death in Paradise) who was also cast as “Jackie” a woman who worked at the hotel and friend of the family. The slave spirit comes to speak with Anita about her experiences working on the grounds long before it became a hotel.
After the interval there was a hilarious disco themed musical piece where all the actors dressed in funky clothes and Afro wigs and danced a Soul Train line. It seemed pretty random but made more sense after a while – they were having a party, and perhaps wanted to get the audience off their feet before carrying on the play. However, this wasn’t the only song and dance moment in the show. There was a big salsa set change and then a tribute to Public Enemy playing their famous song Fight the Power. After that a Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation styled dance that involved literally the whole cast on stage breaking into hardcore choreography which I think wasn’t needed at all and completely washed away the mood of the topic that led to that number. Politics and Black Power seemed to be mentioned only in the slightest. There was mention of the current US election and the worry if Donald Trump would win.
It’s a shame that the points made throughout the play weren’t strong enough, and when emotions rose it was too fast for the audience to emote with what the character’s were feeling. I couldn’t connect to anything they preached about; it just lacked that depth you look for in a text that speaks on these issues. Even when the character “Toussaint” (Alexis Rodney – Guardians of the Galaxy) named after the legendary victorious leader of the Haitian revolution Toussaint L’Ouverture had his share, it wasn’t enough, and he never really said anything deep enough to move the audience, even though he was the one that was meant to be pro-black.
Overall, the script needed some editing, Hotel Cerise was entertaining but it was difficult to connect with the story.
The Hotel Cerise finishes its run at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, Saturday November 12th 2016
Book tickets here