KATHERINE M GRAHAM recommends a drama on Afro-American realities
Hotel Cerise Theatre Royal Stratford East, London E15 4/5
FIRMLY anchored in a traditional yet nuanced understanding of the family, Hotel Cerise is a moving engagement with the tension around and between black heritage and US politics today.
Bonnie Greer’s new work takes Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard and sets it in the middle of contemporary politics, with the play’s action concluding the day before the imminent presidential election.
The focus is on the Mountjoys, owners of the Hotel Cerise, who are struggling with financial pressures and trying to save the property and the land that’s been in their family for years.
Saving the hotel is a personal quest intimately connected to black history, as it had been a gathering place for stars like Ella Fitzgerald and Bessie Smith from the early 1900s on.
The narrative is driven by a strong central performance from the charismatic Ellen Thomas as Anita, whose elegiac imagination literally sees the tensions between past and present. She’s ably supported by Madeline Appiah and Claire Prempe as her daughters Chirlane and Lorraine, Nicholas Beveney as the swaggering brother AL and Abhin Galey as Karim Hassan, who both is and isn’t family.
At times the play feels like it’s possibly doing too much, juggling many characters and issues in a way which sometimes means threads are dropped or fail to connect. But this is a minor cavil when set against the vibrancy of the characters and the complexity of the sociopolitical world they inhabit.
The Chekhovian template Greer adopts serves well in politically interrogating the current black experience and where it’s perhaps most successful is in charting what this family has lost, the lives that black Americans are losing and, vitally, suggesting what might be lost if Trump wins the presidency. A poignant, challenging and vitally important play.