Inspired by Chekov’s ‘The Cherry Orchard’, Bonnie Greer takes us to Michigan and ‘The Hotel Cerise’, the almost abandoned getaway for the African-American elite. Relevantly set in our time of turmoil and uncertainty prior to the U.S. election, this show updates a classic and brings ‘The Hotel Cerise’ back to its former jazz days.
With classic jazz standards – sung by the likes of Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald – blasting through the auditorium we are immediately pulled into a memory of the hotel in its former, more glamourous years. Silhouettes of cherry trees and large, glass doors (designed by Ellen Cairns) introduce a feeling of luxury and nostalgia, bringing us back into Anita Mountjoy’s lustful recollection of her childhood. As we learn that the hotel is to be shut down in August, and Anita’s struggling debt becomes increasingly apparent, we tumble through the family turmoil, centred around this ‘cerise’ (cherry in French) hotel.
As with Chekov’s original production, this play focuses on the political state of a country and the effect deeply ingrained hierarchy has on its people. This time, we are in the summer of 2016, with tensions running high as the Presidential debate rumbles on. We witness frequent debates unravelling, surfacing major opinions and issues of the current fight between Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump. There is not only hatred fired towards the Republican party, but also a major fear is voiced – the family is not unaware of the growing possibility of Trump’s election as President. The horrendous recent events of police shooting members of the black community are reflected on and, as the curtain comes down on the first act, we cannot help but be struck by the idea of America “killing Barack Hussein Obama over and over and over again.”
The play continues to be tightly intertwined with Chekov’s original and, although stated that this is not an adaptation, Greer dares not steer too sharply from the original storyline. She creates this play with elegance in her political and social opinions, and despite feeling that there are a few political discussions that could have been extended upon, she grips onto a communal feeling of injustice in the final moments of the second act. Here, we witness some astonishing performances, most notably from Ellen Thomas as Anita, who absorbs us in a cathartic, outpour of the bottled-up tension, trouble and devastation she has experienced. The issue with Greer’s script, however, lies in the complexity and conclusion of each of the characters; in the first act, so much of the focus is on the political state of the country that we lose any relationship with the characters.
There are moments throughout the production where I question director Femi Elufowoju’s incorporation of modern movement and dance; it was neither effective or damaging to the production. However, the rest of the production was slick and gave subtle gestures to Chekov’s original play.
‘The Hotel Cerise’ is an intriguing and important production, inspired by ‘The Cherry Orchard’. It brings another outlook to the Trump vs. Clinton debate that a British audience may not have considered, while not excluding us from Chekov’s artistry. Bonnie Greer has seen a way to reinvent the classics that I have not witnessed before, and I hope she continues to do so, in turn stretching what we believe the classics should do.
The Hotel Cerise is playing Theatre Royal Stratford East until November 12.
Photo: Stephen Cummiskey