Ellen Thomas in The Hotel Cerise, Theatre Royal Stratford East
In The Hotel Cerise (see listing), playwright Bonnie Greer’s exploration of the black elite in modern day America where Donald Trump is a presidential candidate after Barack Obama’s eight year occupation of the White House is a sobering reflection of escalating tensions around isms – classism, feminism, sexism, racism, and displacement by new immigrants across a wide colour spectrum.
The strong ensemble cast worked fantastically together.
The privileged Mountjoy family, led by the matriarch Anita Lily, are facing the loss of their family property – a hotel where jazz greats Bessie Smith and Ella Fitzgerald entertained guests and the grounds were used for luscious barbeques. They are under pressure to sell, but are they prepared to start again as their monied insulation from their white ancestor has prevented them from suffering the grinding toils on ordinary black folk. Anita Lily has been caught up in a whirlwind romance gone awry in Paris; her daughters Chirlane and Lorraine are straining to come out of her shadow and determine their own identities. Meanwhile, Anita Lily’s brother Augustus Leon has been sampling marriages like mere desserts.
El Anthony, Nicholas Beveney, Abhin Galeya, Michael Bertenshaw in The Hotel Cerise
Set designer Ellen Cairns has created an evocative experience of rusted gold and reddish brown orchid trees glazed by romantic period doors that unleash rich memories of superiority and indulgence.
Greer throws some beautiful lines on the façade of the black upper class
It is a multi-faceted dialogue on the black elite perspective in America and a continuous face off between the old and the new; the loyalists and the radicals; and the s of the b. Greer throws some beautiful lines on the façade of the black upper class, such as Anita Lily’s comment “we scream every second and they think it’s singing”. But the dynamics are not always successfully navigated: for example, it is hard to buy the inter-racial romance between Chirlane and the boy-from-the tracks-made-good Karim who leads on finding a buyer for the Mountjoy property. What is their backstory and how does that move the plot forward?
Inspired by Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard, Greer poses an interesting dilemma for the angst ridden Mountjoys: who should be your saviour? Is it the Africans “coming over here, taking our jobs … Africans are the new blacks” – one of which wants to capitalise on the Cerise brand globally, or Karim whose father used to work on the grounds of the hotel and by that definition is lower down in the hierarchy? What does it mean that a black family with an inheritance allows it to crumble away?
Alexis Rodney & Ellen Thomas in The Hotel Cerise, Theatre Royal Stratford East
The juxtaposition of the black elite with the black working class where the rite of passage is jail time as a young teen is one of the most disturbing scenes directed by Femi Elufowoju jr. Mimicking the loading and firing of guns, and lit by a haunting bluish light, boyish worker T.K. (Corey Montague-Sholay) launches into a zombie like dance with the cast as they recall the stresses and strains they face in the ghettos of black America.
It is depressing that Trump’s winning of the presidential election is a foregone conclusion in Greer’s transposition of the black experience in The Cherry Orchard. Although the strong ensemble cast worked fantastically together, it would have been better to have reduced the number of characters and tease out the schisms of monied black power on the brink of a changing era.