As the National Theatre production of Hotel drew to a close the audience sat ramrod still.
The stage was littered with fake blood, furniture was strewn all over the shop and smoke billowed out of a fake fire.
Polly Stenham’s new 80-minute play is so startling and thought provoking that once the actors had departed the stage I stayed in my seat for ten more minutes, chatting to the woman sitting next to me.
One of the UK’s most exciting young playwrights, Polly Stenham shot to fame seven years ago when That Face, her shocking drama about a dysfunctional family, catapulted on to the London stage. She was 19 when she wrote it, 21 when it transferred to the West End and all of 23 when it was staged in New York. Daily Telegraph theatre critic Charles Spencer went so far as to say it was “one of the most astonishing debuts I have seen in more than 30 years of theatre reviewing.”
Hotel is Stenham’s fourth play. It treads some familiar family-orientated territory and an awful lot of new territory besides. The first part focuses on a high-flying politician who’s just resigned her ministerial post after her husband got embroiled in an internet dating scandal. Together with their lippy teenage children the pair escape to a desert island hotel to try and repair the damage.
But suddenly the whole play shifts, switching from a drama of family dynamics into a tropical thriller where nothing is quite what it seems. The production, staged at the National Theatre’s temporary space, turns into a polemic about colonialism and international aid, integrity and revenge.
Hotel is excellently staged, well acted and full of great writing – but it could do with some redrafting. The woman in the adjoining seat and I agreed that the first third of the play is top notch, the following two-thirds gripping, but not wholly convincing. Even so, it’s well worth seeing.
Hotel is at the National Theatre in London until August 2.