Newspaper article International New York Times

Spilled Blood on the Floors, a Summer of Carnage Onstage ; 'Hotel' and 'Idomeneus' Extend a Grisly Season for London Theater

Newspaper article International New York Times

Spilled Blood on the Floors, a Summer of Carnage Onstage ; 'Hotel' and 'Idomeneus' Extend a Grisly Season for London Theater

Article excerpt

"Hotel" and "Idomeneus" extend a grisly season for London theater.

What a pristine room, all sparkling white from floor to ceiling, with not a speck of dust in sight.

If you're a regular theatergoer, you know that any stage set this clean and this white isn't going to stay that way for long. This being the summer of carnage in London theater -- with hit productions of the vampire romance "Let the Right One In" and the torture-happy "1984" -- you also know that before you can say, "Drop that weapon," these immaculate walls will be smeared with blood.

Such were my first impressions on entering the Shed of the National Theater, the home to Polly Stenham's "Hotel," and for once my first impressions were correct. This anxiety-fueled allegory, which takes place in a luxury resort on a desert island, is an exercise in desecration, as a pale-skinned British family that stinks of privilege and entitlement is brought to its knees. That's literally brought to its knees, all the better to be roughed up and mutilated.

Ms. Stenham achieved fame at 19 with her first produced play, "That Face" (2007), a portrait of a mad monster mother and her damaged teenage progeny. Her second work, "Tusk Tusk" (2009), was a variation on the same theme. With "Hotel," Ms. Stenham retains her signature dysfunctional clan of warped teenagers and warping parents, but expands the view around them, to reveal an entire dysfunctional world.

That's a lot of weight to place on one unhappy family, and "Hotel" buckles under the burden of topical baggage. Mummy (Hermione Gulliford) is a British minister for foreign affairs who is angry with Daddy (Tom Beard) for derailing her career by sending pictures of his penis to a lusty online correspondent.

They're on this vacation with the kids, Ralph (Tom Rhys Harries) and Frankie (a defiantly sly Shannon Tarbet), to try to salvage their marriage. But the sins of the father ain't nothing compared to the sins of the mother in her capacity as running-dog international treaty signer. And so the family is visited by an assortment of unwelcome guests who include one seriously angry hotel maid (the fiercely poised Susan Wokoma) and -- wait for it -- an army of Somali pirates.

The word has been that "Hotel," directed by Maria Aberg, is so intense and so graphic that some theatergoers have fainted or bolted in terror. My audience, perhaps forewarned by publicity, seemed to take the torture and slaughter of this slickly mounted production in stride. I suspect, though, that there might have been some wincing at the ennobling references to Shakespeare's "The Tempest" woven into the script.

There's blood on the floors at the Gate Theater, too, though in this case the blood is black and unmistakably ersatz. That's because in "Idomeneus," the German dramatist Roland Schimmelpfennig's inventive deconstruction of a Greek myth, ink is spilled whenever its characters bite the dust. …

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