Wherever they are in the world, hotels always contain their own suspended sense of location and identity. They create constantly changing communities, little island of stopping within a passage of travel. Yet the members of these ‘communities’ can often remain entirely isolated from one another, shut off behind heavy fire safety doors or sectioned off into different classes of room, the standard doubles floors apart from the penthouse suites at the top. So it seems fitting that Hotel Europe, a semi-immersive new production by Isley Lynn and Philipp Ehmann should take place along a hotel corridor.
The single audience member is directed into five rooms in turn, each containing an audio play heard either through headphones or broadcast directly into the space. Each of the rooms are distinct, yet all contain a certain strain of nostalgia in the decoration. A floral eiderdown, patchwork blankets, a broken vintage pram of the kind that deserves the name ‘perambulator’. The aesthetic contrasts with the immediacy of the project itself – short plays in response to the Brexit vote – and in doing so provides a reminder of how hard it is to disentangle a long-running relationship between the tiny British Isles and the larger continent it loiters just to the side of. How hard, for instance, it is to decide who is British and who is European and who, indeed, is really any nationality when so many people come from families that have moved throughout Europe, Britain and the rest of the world. The fashions in the room are more specifically connected to the last, say, 70 years, a time period reiterated in two of the plays, Epifania by Rafaella Marcus and The Same Country by Tom Black, both of which contain characters from the same family stretching back across successive generations.
The other plays, The Broken Clock by Gael le Cornec, Midnight Express by Milly Thomas and Black Rock by Benedict Hudson all take very different approaches to the subject at hand. Le Cornec’s work dramatizes a meeting between two lovers now unable to be together according to the law. Midnight Express uses the 1978 film directed by Alan Parker as a way of exploring how different cultures are presented in popular culture and the isolating effect this can have on a viewer seeing their own culture depicted in a derogatory fashion. Black Rock, meanwhile, takes us within a culture and a nationality, bringing a distinctively Welsh voice to Hotel Europe, and one that talks of the changing landscape of Wales as the mining industry closed whilst conjuring folkloric phantoms from out of the dark.
Of the five pieces included, the one that stood out the most was Marcus’s Epifania. A quietly understated work with an emphasis on the domestic and the lives of three female generations of a family who immigrated to Britain from Italy, Epifania demonstrates the interaction of the political with the personal. The voices of the women also foreground the closeness in time between 2017 and the Second World War, even though the time between them often feels particularly pronounced thanks to so many technological innovations and changes in lifestyle. The part that seemed peculiarly heart-breaking was the mention in an email by the youngest member of the family that her grandmother had always claimed the British were unswervingly friendly and helpful, even thought they (we, should I say ‘we’?) were not. It’s these little lies we repeat to try to change the past, and listening to it I can see hundreds of tiny dots of mould and decay appearing in ‘the fabric of Great Britain’ in the same way that real dots invade the white duvet stretched across the bed. It’s never really been as stitched together as we like to think.
Hotel Europe is on until 25th February 2017 at the Green Rooms Hotel in Wood Green, London. Click here for more details.