REVIEW: Hotel (The Christchurch Arts Festival)

Hotel secrets exposed.

Hotel Secrets [by Sharu Delilkan]

Hotel secrets exposed.
Hotel secrets exposed.

The all-too-familiar experience began as we entered The Rendezvous Hotel to see the Christchurch Arts Festival show Hotel. We walked into the reception and spoke to the concierge who said that we would be called when the show was about to begin. What I’m referring to is all the unknowns we are confronted with when we walk into a hotel, that and the often inevitable wait before you are shown to your room.

In keeping with this routine when ‘checking into’ a hotel room, we had to wait for what seemed like an inordinate amount of time. But eventually we were told that it wouldn’t be long before we would be led to the appointed room.

You could feel the excitement mount as everyone downed their drinks and got ready to experience the intimate, exclusive and inclusive show that could only house a maximum of 14 guests. We all felt rather special as the packed lift took us up to the 14th floor.

Once we get to the designated floor our ‘guide’ calls someone and says “housekeeping” which must have received an affirmative response because before we know it we’re seated along the periphery of the living room. I hear someone in the bathtub as we take our seats but we can’t see what is happening as there are sounds emanating from the bathroom as we sit down, which adds to the intrigue.

The close-up theatre experience can only be likened to close-up magic, which was trendy a few years ago. Having the city of Christchurch in the background behind and below us, seen through the huge windows, provided an interesting backdrop and a great metaphor for the fractured lives of the people in the room. The script included a great tribute to Christchurch, which helped to contextualize the show. I assume they must do that in every location they perform in – which is a great way of endearing the audience.

The use of various pieces of Kiwi music was also a great device to delineate the storylines and scene changes.

Having recently seen April PhillipsMotel at The Basement where I felt like a voyeur, this was an even more heightened experience since the actors were acting centimetres away from us at times, making us able to almost “smell the actors’ breath”. I particularly enjoyed the interplay of the characters who were clearly in different time zones, passing and bypassing one other but not interacting. Another voyeuristic point was being able to see people’s intimate and private moments. However the way in which we were positioned meant that we could only see glimpses of activities in some of the other rooms, some of the time. This meant that nobody could see the whole picture and each of us got a different slice of what was going on depending where you were seated.

Another aspect of the way of our seating arrangement that I really enjoyed, was the ability to watch the other half of the audience while they were observing a show. Amazingly, however, after a while, despite the actors being “in yer face” the audience seemed to believe they were still in an auditorium in the dark – talking to one another, shuffling, even occasionally snoozing – an amazingly immediate study of how we all act and react to emotional storytelling.

Unfortunately despite all these clever devices Hotel falls short of being a great piece of theatre. Stringing together a number of vignettes doesn’t a great of piece of theatre make. But that is my personal opinion. My husband however thoroughly enjoyed the portrayal of time suspended and the non-resolution of storylines, which he says added a touch of realism.

There were a lot of “oh yes moments” which the audience could relate to with regards to how people behave. This included things like checking out which lights were which, to suss out your environment as well the way in which many hotel guest steal all the toiletries before checking out.

Hats off to director Paul McLaughlin for pulling off some very complex choreography and the ability to ensure multiple uses for each of the props. Another clever device was the overlapping dialogue and overlapping lives without interaction – made for an interesting experience.

Overall Hotel displays the full range of human experience and emotion, where we as audience members are privy to seeing people at their most unguarded and vulnerable.

Hotel is presented by Site Specific Theatre and plays at Hotel Rendezvous until 22 September. More information at the Christchurch Arts Festival.

SEE ALSO: review by Erin Harrington.

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