It is 1944. Casablanca won the Oscar for Best Picture, Franklin D Roosevelt has been elected for a fourth term and three actors are travelling North America with a performance of Othello following a record-breaking run on Broadway.
Eventual two-time Tony Award winner Uta Hagen played Desdemona, her husband José Ferrer – who would win an Oscar for his film work – was Iago and singing star Paul Robeson took the leading role.
As the title might suggest, 8 Hotels is more concerned with the drama unfolding offstage than on it, and it bears more than a fleeting resemblance to the Shakespearean play, via the film Green Book.
In a series of soliloquies and duologues rooted in the hotel rooms they stay in during the tour, jealously begins to infect José and Paul’s relationship as his affair with Uta bubbles over into their work lives.
As a modern Othello, reimagined in a pre-civil rights era America, it works surprisingly well.
But as the play skips further ahead in time and more themes are added – such as the rise of Communist Russia and the McCarthy era ‘witch hunts’ in Hollywood – the hotel room conceit began to strain, as did the characters’ motivations for being there.
In one particularly jarring leap, Uta goes from telling Paul he has emotionally scarred her for life in one scene to turning up at his hotel room with a beaming smile and a bottle of rum in the next.
With a notable shift between the ‘Othello tour’ scenes and later scenes, there was also no reason for it not to have an interval.
There were also some anomalies with the dialogue too.
During a blazing row between Paul and Uta, moments where he gaslighted her provoked laughter in the audience, stifling the pace of the scene.
That being said, particular praise should go to Emma Paetz as Uta, who brought passion and likeability to the role.
Although I felt that playwright Nicholas Wright should go back to the drawing board for some parts of this brand-new play, overall it is worth a watch.
Until August 24.