New York’s bohemian hotel was until recently under threat from property developers so the latest production from the Cardiff-based Earthfall is bang on the money. Immortalised in films (Warhol and Morrissey’s Chelsea Girls) and in songs by Leonard Cohen, Janis Joplin and Joni Mitchell, the Chelsea Hotel has seen residents such as Dylan Thomas, Tennessee Williams and Patti Smith pass through its cockroach-friendly corridors. It is a house of boho ghosts and Earthfall’s multi-media performance conjures dead souls and living spirits.
The trio of multi-instrumental musicians keep the soundscape fluid while the quartet of performers act out vignettes inspired by residents famous, infamous and anonymous. A large video screen depicts whirring ceiling fans, corridors, lifts and rooms and the characters on stage; an onstage camera allows each performer to deliver a poem, a song lyric or a comment on the place. Fragments of memory gradually build to an impressionistic portrait.
Bookended by the arrival and departure of a young, innocent European couple the interplay of men and women, men and men and women and women and their offbeat emotional transactions is conducted with a physical bravery bordering on recklessness. A junkie OD’s in an elevator, two girls in long Victorian dresses flirt and play like overgrown, sexualised schoolgirls; Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen roll about on a bed in abandoned, eternal foreplay; Patti Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe tear each other asunder – flinging each other around the stage with centrifugal violence. The musicians, powerfully evoking the mood (if not the period) of each scene wander in and out of the action, integrating themselves into the performance. Chiming guitars, clattering electronic drums and subtle shifts of tone enhance the heady atmosphere, pungent with a kind of curdled romanticism and the decaying, hallucinatory innocence that makes the Chelsea Hotel unique. A very cool tribute.
Riverside Studios, London, November 5-16, then touring until December 5
- Frank Naughton, Sion Orgon, Felix Otaola
- Artistic directors
- Jessica Cohen, Jim Ennis
- Ros Haf Brooks, Jessica Haener, Sebastian Langueneur, Alex Marshall Parsons
- Running time
- 1 hour 10 minutes