The brainchild of Mark Watson - a festival legend at the age of just 29, thanks to his 24-hour shows and solo stand-up – The Hotel is one of the least easily-definable shows on the Fringe. And that’s going some.
Watson, along with the innovative Camden-based production company The Invisible Dot, has commandeered an entire townhouse on Queen Street in the New Town, and with a cast and crew of dozens, turned it into something which is part comedy, part play, and part art installation.
The audience are guests at The Hotel, a once-salubrious B+B (recipient of a Highly Commended Award for Best Integration of TV in Lounge or Games Room in 1991, according to the witty flyer you are handed on your arrival) that has now fallen on hard times – a fate mirrored by its tragic owner, Charlie Rowland.
Ushered from room to room by staff who are either over-eager, disinterested, or foul-mouthed, the guests experience a little more of The Hotel each time they open a door. There’s the Boardroom, where a job interview leads to the candidates brawling out in the street; the ‘Wellness’ Room, where you’ll get fit or else; and – most disturbingly of all – the kitchens, where unstable chefs are kept behind glass for the guests’ safety, and use increasingly unconventional methods to either cook the food, or escape.
The attention to detail in all of this is exquisite. The shabby wallpaper, the woeful attempts at modernisation and the crazed look in the staff members’ eyes all come together to evoke an establishment where even faded charm has faded.
The most impressive example of this comes in Charlie’s room at the top of the house, where empty whisky bottles and takeaway wrappers are strewn across the floor, while letters charting Charlie’s demise cover the walls. Down in the Computer Suite, access to Charlie’s emails gives further, unsettling insight into his troubled mind.
The only issue here is time-management – you get sucked into a certain room (this can easily happen in the Cabaret Bar, where “proper” comics including Pippa Evans and Marcel Lucont perform) only to miss out on something equally great elsewhere. And that’s such a shame, because there is something to delight, disturb or otherwise confuse in every room: in a town where the abnormal is normal, The Hotel still manages to be seductively weird, and utterly unique.
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