Review: 8 Hotels (Minerva Theatre, Chichester)

Nicholas Wright’s new play opens in Chichester

Emma Paetz in 8 Hotels
Emma Paetz in 8 Hotels
© Manuel Halan

Who is in the wrong when all are guilty of betrayal?

That question lies at the heart of Nicholas Wright's compelling new work based on true life events surrounding the complex relationship between three actors touring provincial theatres in North America at the end of the Second World War.

As the title of the play suggests, the action takes place in eight hotel bedrooms between 1944 and the McCarthyism anti-American hearings of the following decade.

Uta Hagen and her husband Jose Ferrer, along with black singer and reluctant actor Paul Robeson are committed to a long tour of American and Canadian cities with their production of Othello. Jose – ‘Joe' – finds distraction with an affair with one of the cast, while Uta and Paul find each other.

Quite who knows about what is not immediately clear, even if Othello's director and fourth member of this tight team Margaret Webster (Peggy) has her suspicions.

As the play unfolds, the audience comes to realise all three of the lovers are hiding more than they are letting on, as hypocrisy is heaped upon betrayal. None of the three is wholly likeable, even if it is equally as difficult to find them wholly disagreeable.

Paul, played by the commanding Tory Kittles, is the master of turning the argument around to become the victim rather than the betrayer. His belief that the cause justifies the means is eventually exposed as a hollow doctrine, in both love and politics.

Joe, played masterfully by Ben Cura, is wonderful as the philanderer who can accept his wife's adultery but not her lover's flaunting of it. In the end he betrays his friend not just to save his own skin but as an act of pure revenge.

Emma Paetz is marvellous as Uta, accepting of her husband's disloyalty, but unprepared to extend such forgiveness to her own lover. Only Peggy, created through a strong performance from Pandora Colin, emerges with any real credit from this collision of passions.

Director Richard Eyre has created an immensely strong, tight one act work that holds the audience gripped. Full credit to designer Rob Howell for simple set changes and use of dramatic giant video screens to create the movement through cities and datelines.

At its heart 8 Hotels is a piece about betrayal, but not just of love and fidelity. As the story moves from prejudice of colour to prejudice of politics, it is the betrayal of ideals and freedoms that haunts, as they still haunt the United States today.