REVIEW: THE HOTEL CERISE (Theatre Royal Stratford East) ★

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Bonnie Greer’s new piece inspired by Chekhov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’ attempts to present a glimpse at the broken cogs of America in the here and now. In the trudging plod to the ever closer Trump/Hilary election, and the first black president preparing to leave the white house, we see an African American family saying goodbye to a life that they and the nation have outgrown.

Anita Mountjoy (Ellen Thomas) returns to the Hotel Cerise, her family home, left to her predecessors by white slave masters, after four years in Paris to find it in disrepair and without any guests. Once a regular stopover for such stars as Ella Fitzgerald, the hotel that used to represent the affluence and societal uprising of the African American community in time of hope, now only reflects a society where things seem to be reverting.

To say I was confused watching this play is an understatement. The action seemed to jump from one point to another without explanation or thought, there’s a narrator that is used only once and then there’s the ghost of a slave in full 1850’s garb appearing after an earthquake! You could practically feel the entire room in a state of discombobulation. The piece claims to be tackling all of the socio-economic complications facing us today, but instead feels more like a sadistic tick list that attempts to please everyone and in doing so offends most.

The opening of the first act seemed to hold promise as the music went from classical to hip hop representing the shift in time and energy, but from then on it was sadly downhill.

The cast are by no means to blame for the shortcomings of this piece and did as good a job as I’m sure they were able. Occasional funny moments from Madeline Appiah who plays Chirlane and a beautiful set design are about the only saving graces of this painfully awkward show. It is the writing and amateurish direction that cause disappointment.

The seventies disco party at the opening of act two and the stiff Afghanistan army march (that looked more like ‘Smooth Criminal’) midway through a scene are just two reasons ‘The Hotel Cerise’ falls short of becoming “meaningful” despite Ms Greer’s best efforts. Unfortunately what I was hoping would be an interesting and exhilarating look at modern times was instead a headache.

Reviewed by Jimmy Richards
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey

THE HOTEL CERISE plays at Theatre Royal Stratford East until 12 November 2016