Is this some kind of cult? I’m standing in the foyer of the Corinthia Hotel while a group of twenty somethings in burgundy smocks chant at me. They’re disturbing people’s afternoon tea. Scones are left hanging halfway towards open mouths, jam drips off. Some people have their cameras out to record the to-do.
This is the fourth year of the Corinthia Hotel’s artist in residence programme. Opera composer Emily Hall takes on the role, and this is the strange result: a promenade opera for twelve audience members at a time, set in and around the Corinthia, with libretto based on text found in the hotel. So that means like wine lists and instructions for making a bed. And these young performers sing it with admirable earnestness while the hotel’s guests (and I) look on a bit bemused.
Danger of death.
All these odd little rituals have been added on to give it a cultish feel. The performers pick up the music boxes in a synchronised action, and our guide is given something to put ceremoniously in an envelope. As we’re led through the corridors and into lifts no one really speaks and, like good little schoolchildren, we keep single file.
We follow a guide. He’s one of the many ambiguous elisions between performance and reality. Is he an actor? Or does he actually work for the hotel? I think he’s an actor. But this is definitely a real hotel, and that allows for some accidental comedy that undermines the po-faces of the performers and the seriousness with which the show is treated.
Like, we’re in a lift and there’s a silent lift operator who ushers us in and press for the third floor. But at the first floor the lift stops and opens. Some random man peers in and says ‘oh, sorry’ and then we carry on up.
_________________ /|__ ______________ / /|_ |__ / /| _ |__/ /_ |_ _ |__ | |__ |__ |_ /|_ |__ / /|__________ |__/ / |/________________
Welcome to housekeeping. Don’t forget to smile :)
And in the basement, one of the staff members is pushing a wheelie bin full of rubbish and cardboard boxes, but the corridor is too narrow to fit both him and us the little audience. So we don’t know whether to let him pass by squishing against the wall, or whether we should pass but then he’s trying to stop all the boxes from falling out of the bin. So we do that to-and-fro thing you do when you’re trying to get past someone but you keep accidentally both going the same way, saying ‘oh sorry, oh sorry, oops sorry’ until someone just seizes the bloody initiative.
Salad and fruits only.
In this height-of-old-fashionedness hotel, the show uses technology so brilliantly. All the performers clutch beautiful wooden boxes that emit music, like artisanal speakers. We even get to hold them at one point, with different layers of sound coming out of each speaker, so that together the dozen audience members parade our own unique symphony through the hotel corridors.
iPads with special apps seem to coordinate the cues of all the musicians running around the hotel trying to get to the right place at the right time. It’s a lovely stark contrast to the formality of the place.
What have our customers been saying about us?
So we’re being paraded around in silence and then suddenly we’re in THE MOTHERSHIP. An amazing, massive basement boiler room with metal pipes squirming all the way round our heads, darting off into the arteries of this colossal building.
Door closed. Please use alterintive route.
Amid all this, the music sort of fades into the background. It’s very nice, a little bit haunting, and one of the pieces uses voices percussively in an interesting way. But there’s too much enforced whispering, which sounds pants. And, really, the found text doesn’t sound like anything other than what it is: instructions for turning on a boiler, items from a menu.
Oh, and there’s a story. Kind of. Big hotel investor has an affair and blows up the boiler room and his wife seems to kills him. The end. Not that that really matters. It’s all the other elements that make this so unusual, but kind of enjoyable.