Chelsea Hotel

Produced by Earthfall
Co-Directed by Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis
Unity Theatre, Liverpool
1st -2nd November 2013

Reviewed by Joe Coventry

Art House Hot House

The packed, mainly young, audience signalled a lot of interest in the past inhabitants of this iconic New York building, which sadly has been in decline since 2011, and is now in the hands of new property developers.

Such has been its notorious and illustrious 130 year history that the names of past residents tripping off the tongue, (in more senses than one), are legion. None more so than in the decades beginning in the 1950s, which was to see it transformed into a socialist utopian enclave of artists, musicians, poets, writers, choreographers and photographers of the avant-garde; the very epitome of where it was at and where you had to be.

These larger than life itinerants often paid for their stay in kind, with the fruit of their labours.

Earthfall have researched the period well for the contents of this 65 minute one act piece of dance, music, recorded video and real time voice-over and imaging, which comprised the show, and very good it was too.

The multi-European Welsh based collaboration attempted to tell the tale of some of the guests, who varied little in distinction, but who included Jack Kerouac, Dylan Thomas, Jackson Pollock, Gore Vidal, Leonard Cohen, Pattie Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe amongst their alumni.

At the forefront of the evening's entertainment was some physical theatre and contemporary dance that came straight out of the top draw, and was relentless in it's literally breathtaking performance. The three strong musical backing of Frank Naughton, Sion Orgon and Felix Otaola was more sympathetic and nuanced, not always in synch with the evocative and provocative action.

For their part the four dancers propelled themselves through routines echoing the intimate and sometimes violent relationships, real and imagined, portrayed on stage.

In particular, what was going on between Smith and Mapplethorpe most caught the eye, but there was enough sexual proclivity for both male and female coupling routines to take place and seem natural enough.

Jessica Haener, Ros Haf Brookes, Sebastian Langeneur and Alex Marshall Parsons took the plaudits, but credit must also go to the lighting and set design of Mike Brookes, which included a big, now obsolete, fridge with no visible contents.

What were they living on?

Brookes also assisted with Michael Blackwood Barnes and Julian Castardi on the backdrop images and film of those riding the metal shutter lifts. A novel live camera was used for anecdotal written messages and occasional cameo comments on what was in the imagined minds of the protagonists on the stage.

A compelling evening then, well appreciated by the enthusiastic crowd. The Co-Artistic Directors can be happy that their own efforts have more than paid off.

If you missed out here there is still a chance to catch this production at The Arts Centre in Ormskirk on Tuesday, 26 November. It would be worth the effort.

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