The Fever – Almeida Theatre @ The May Fair Hotel, until 07 February 2015
The use of The May Fair Hotel is spot-on. It isn’t so much that it is a luxury hotel, but it is that type of global, anonymous luxury that means absolutely nothing. The Savoy, the Ritz or the Carlton; they may be pricy but there is a distinct personality to them. From the lobby, through the corridors and into the exclusive high-end suite where Wallace Shawn’s incisively powerful monologue has been set, the most striking feature is the sheer facelessness of this wealth.
Generic abstract ‘world’ art hangs on the wall, the corridors have a plush carpet but are really not so different to those found in any Travel Lodge and there is absolutely no personality to the room. Containing huge flat screen TVs, top-end speakers and a bathroom as big as a London studio flat, it doesn’t thrill but importantly it doesn’t offend. Perfect for the wealthy Russian and assorted euro trash clientele that swarm around Mayfair, keeping London’s economy buoyant in the face of the latest dismal news emanating from the eurozone.
It is perfectly chosen for a monologue that captures the global dynamic of modern wealth, the faceless hotel room culture of the high-flying worker from the developed world. Take a photo of it and you could never hope to guess what city it is located in. London to Mumbai, New York to Lagos, we have joined the hermetically sealed world of the international class.
Wallace Shawn wrote this tremendous piece back in the 1990’s. Even if some of the terms have dated – there is an almost charmingly old-fashioned bit on Das Capital and, of course, there is no mention of the threat posed from a resurgent Islam – it is sadly even more relevant than when it was written. Day after day we hear how yet more of the world’s global wealth has fallen under the control of the richest. In 15 years we haven’t turned this tanker around, and the terrifying aspect of Shawn’s play is the chilling realism of it not trying to suggest we will do so in the future.
Shawn wrote words that he felt needed to be said. Well, this production demonstrates we need to keep saying them. He brilliantly frames issues in a way that have an immediate resonance. His section on the fanaticism of the metropolitan class – how their brains refuse to even allow themselves to consider the inherent unfairness of the global capitalist set-up because if they did then they couldn’t function – is one of the most singularly incisive critiques I have heard on the issue.