Ben Whishaw on being in love and Hamlet
Review: Mr Burns at the Almeida Theatre

Review: Polly Stenham's Hotel at the National Theatre

Hotel_poster_0Polly Stenham, in an interview for the BBC describe's her new play Hotel as a thriller. And there is certainly some edge of your seat and explosive stuff. In Stenham-style there are some shocks and this is probably the most physical and disturbing of her plays so far.

The problem is the set up doesn't quite work in that it engages you in a very different way to how the play ultimately pans out.

It's set in a luxury hotel on a remote island off Kenya where an ex- British minister is holidaying with her family. Vivienne (Hermione Gulliford) has just been forced to resign as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry after her husband Robert (Tom Beard) was involved in some sort of scandal involving another woman.

Meanwhile their teenage daughter Frankie (Shannon Tarbet) is blackmailing her brother Ralph (Tom Rhys Harries) to come clean to his parents about something bad he has done.

It has all the makings of a great family drama: Tense, squabbling parents and teen siblings with a dark secret. There are also some funny and lovely lighter moments - I particularly enjoyed Ralph and Frankie's dance routine (I wonder if Stenham has seen the film Perks of Being a Wallflower?)

The story behind Tom's affair isn't as straightforward as it first seems, naturally, and neither is Ralph's secret. But then the storyline swerves away in a different direction towards the thriller Stenham refers to.  It touches on politics, capitalism, post-colonialism and terrorism. Not small topics and plenty to mull over while you are gripping the edge of your seat.

I laughed, I was shocked, I was surprised, I was interested and I was entertained and as a result I did really enjoy Hotel but I also can't help feeling short-changed. I'd love to know how the intial scenario played out, cut off just as it was starting, with too little to work on to draw your own conclusions. The thriller too left a few too many questions unanswered.

Stenham is a queen of people drama and perhaps here it is a case of the drama being just a bit too strong for themes she wants to explore or the themes are too strong to ignore and let the drama play out. Or, and loathed as I am to call for a play to be longer, perhaps it needs a bit more space in which to explore the themes and exploit the drama fully.

I'd like to see Hotel again, just to see certain scenes again and the young cast is particularly good - nice to see Tom Rhys Harries in meatier role following on from Silver Johnny who book-ends Mojo. It is a play I'll remember for some key moments and for not quite being the sum of all its parts.

Hotel is on at the Temporary Space (formerly known as The Shed) at the National Theatre until August 2.


Mojo and Tom Rhys Harries of course but also Polly Stenham who directed (and wrote) Foxtrot in which Mr W appeared.