Managing to drag myself away from the Free Fringe the other day I went to see Hotel Paradiso at the Pleasance. First a quick word about the housekeeping there – sure it’s paid/ticketed shows and sure it’s the big cheese as far Fringe venue complexes go but I was soon pining for the on-stair chaos of the Counting House after being herded into order by the staff who surely must be the result of a genetic experiment with the Sylvia Young theatre school and some Imperial Stormtroopers. Luckily their cattle prods must have needed charging the day I was there.
On to the show. Any show that’s getting five star reviews and packed houses has to be good – right? Don’t be so naive! But this is the very well respected Familie Floz theatre company and it is very good. In any production using the classic mask technique, effective lighting and top-notch stage production are vital for creating suspension of disbelief. Pretty important too is the physical dexterity of the cast members in order to give each character a complete personality and not a Disneyland character lumbering around the stage.
Ticking all the above boxes and then some I would say the weakest link is perhaps the narrative. Okay when you’ve got a highly accomplished set of actors performing in over-sized mask heads and doing some pretty nifty routines – break-dancing, chair-jumping – and just the whole jaw-dropping aspect of four people playing a dazzling array of characters – maybe it is a bit churlish to ask ‘what’s the story then?’ The answer is – there’s not much of one. There’s sibling jealousy, romantic interludes, a matriarch who rules the roost, a stoical butcher/cook who appears to off-stage sound effects of barking dog and a chainsaw… After the whimsy and the set-pieces it descends into the murder and mayhem part. I decided then it probably wasn’t worth holding out for much of a plot but just to sit back and enjoy the spectacle.
I’ve heard the quote ‘Fawlty Towers meets Delicatessen‘ which is a fair enough description. The posters do seem to promise more macabre fare along the lines of theatre of the absurd but this is pretty much family-friendly stuff. Having said that there are some gently poignant and slightly eerie moments conjured up – from the playing of romantische musik and the clever lighting suggesting an Alpine resort at twilight to a beautifully simple device of illustrating a character’s death by having them enter a lift and then appearing in the family portrait above.
So if you can get a ticket you should go – and just hope the Pleasance Youth haven’t recharged their cattle prods!
Review for 10 August