Wendy Wason: Hotel California | Review by Jay Richardson
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Wendy Wason: Hotel California

Note: This review is from 2014

Review by Jay Richardson

Wendy Wason's show starts unpromisingly, a culture-clash account of how she, her three kids and actor husband temporarily re-located to Hollywood for pilot season.

As a London-based Scot, she affects to baulk at the pretentious La-La-Land menus, with absolutely 'nothing deep-fried' on them. And the French, it transpires, are very surly.

Worse, she shares her celebrity spotting – George Clooney! In a cafe! And that's it. She doesn't even hear him speak. When she projects a slide with a plan of the Warner Bros studio lot, your heart sinks, predicting another hard-luck tale from The Dream Factory, punctuated with the most banal observations.

To be fair, there is some interest in hearing how she, as a jobbing actor in the UK, fares against the younger, more glamorous competition in her auditions. But as it turns out, that's the least of her worries.

Because what begins as an underwhelming busman's holiday, degenerates into a bureaucratic nightmare as her husband falls gravely ill and is dumped into the American public healthcare service. With doubts as to whether their medical insurance covers them, Wason finds herself weighing up his survival against the cost of their bills. And to compound matters, she can't even get to see him without the threat of her children being removed by social services.

The persecution of the poor and the marginalised by the system is emphasised by the Yorkshireman she encounters working in the hospital, who patiently and racistly explains why it's so nice to see another white face. Suddenly, America's 'have a nice day' refrain becomes 'pay up or suffer the consequences'. When she eventually does get to see her husband, she only averts disaster at the hands of inexperienced staff by seconds.

Eavesdropping on the freakish, self-inflicted injury of a nearby crystal meth addict and recalling her less-than-fragrant namesake in the television series Breaking Bad, Wason begins to appreciate why the US public got so behind a white-collar, drug dealing victim of cancer like the show's anti-hero, Walter White – medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in the States.

So now, she switches to polemic, highlighting the similarities between American healthcare and the changes surreptitiously being made to the NHS, conceived by Labour and stealthily implemented by the Tories.

Light on laughs, she can't prevent herself getting a bit preachy here. Yet given some of the horrors and establishment nest-feathering she comprehensively lists and attributes to creeping privatisation, it's doubtful even a more seasoned hand at this such as Dr Phil Hammond could turn it into a chucklefest. She suggests voting for the National Health Action party, but the flippancy with which she also advocates rioting like the French undermines her message somewhat.

The net result is an unwieldy show that only really grips during the middle section as her husband's life hangs in the balance. Wason capably conveys the terror of this incident, while maintaining a keen eye on all the misery and absurdity surrounding them, ironically delivering as fine an example of her acting abilities as any standoffish, Californian casting director might hope to see.

Review date: 3 Aug 2014
Reviewed by: Jay Richardson
Reviewed at: Gilded Balloon Teviot

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