Tuesday, 1 July 2014
Hotel at The Shed
Polly Stenham is becoming renowned for portraying the modern dysfunctional middle class family. However her new play, Hotel, now premiering at The Shed, turns this scenario into something rather more terrifying.
House husband, Robert, and Vivienne, his high flying wife, along with their 17 year old son, Ralph and 14 year old daughter, Frankie, have just arrived on a remote, luxury resort somewhere off the coast of Kenya. The trip has been organised because Vivienne has been forced to resign her post as a secretary for trade because Robert has been caught on the internet with “his trousers down”. Having sacrificed his career to look after the children, whilst his wife pursues hers, he harbours nearly as much resentment as she does following his stupidity. Not a harmonious start to a holiday by any stretch of the imagination. The two teenage children are more than aware of what is going on, with their behaviour belying their years and Ralph has promised Frankie he will share a dark secret with his father. More tension building stuff. We are certainly in thriller territory here and the disquiet wracks up and up until it blows into something extraordinary.
I don’t want to give too much away except to say that Nala, the black maid, who has us all wondering almost as soon as she appears on stage, harbours even more resentment than the warring couple. This rancour is directed mainly towards Vivienne and her signing of aid deals affecting the Kenyan flower industry and builds to a destructive climax. Included in this is a most vicious kicking, which in the small space of The Shed, is really shocking, especially as it is accompanied by real howls of pain and fear. Not easy viewing by any means, especially when viewed from the front row
And that for me is one of the problems of this play. Whilst the acting is, for the most part exemplary, the hell this family find themselves in does appear contrived. Not because we can’t believe such a thing could happen, but by the way it does. The whole thing appears studied and it’s difficult to ascertain why. Maybe its because the dialogue at this point in the play shifts from realistic exchanges between the family into short bursts of almost rhetorical speeches on behalf of Nala.
Tom Rhys Harries is a superb Ralph and his relationship with Frankie, the excellent Shannon Tarbet, is utterly believable. Hermione Gulliford and Tom Beard playing Vivienne and Robert are equally good, whilst Susan Wokoma’s Nala has her moments of excellence. I totally believed she was suffering excruciating pain.
Naomi Dawson’s very smart hotel set works perfectly and its very elegance helps to highlight the resulting mayhem. Equally Maria Aberg is expert at hinting at the mayhem to come, causing a rippling unease in the whole theatre from the outset.
It’s just a pity that for me the second half of the play didn’t work quite as well as the first.