Abigail Sinclair, Alex Cook, Broadsword Theatre, Christianity, Edinburgh Fringe, Fraser Nickolls, Greenside @ Nicolson Square, Hotel by Sam Eastop, Jade McQuillan, Martina Vondrova, Sam Eastop, Sasha Aronson, Theatre Review
[The following contains spoilers.]
“Hotel” is written by Sam Eastop and it has one night left at Greenside on Nicolson Square before it has to hand back the keys. None of the guests at the story’s hotel can remember how they arrived. In fact, they each seem to have suffered from a strange mishap, such as a car crash or a trip to hospital, prior to finding themselves standing in its reception. The hotel is heavenly, with cocktails and lasagne to die for, but there are a lot of rules and they are stringently enforced. Any transgressors are made to check out and it is then that they are presented with the bill.
This is not an original idea and I am enough of a horror buff, in my own modest way, to recognise it from the 1972 Ghost Story episode “Time of Terror.” Here, a lady struggles to locate her husband in an otherworldly luxury hotel, just as Ashley (Sasha Aronson) in “Hotel” is searching for her lost brother (Fraser Nickolls). There could be other, older versions of this narrative in circulation, which simply constitute gaps in my horror knowhow (there is, of course, “Hotel California” by the Eagles). If I can dare to meekly venture another horror reference, I have also noticed that the theatre company, Broadsword, shares its name with the nightmarish hotel in the Laird Barron horror story.
Due to the setup of “Hotel” and the burden of dramatic irony that it has chosen to shoulder, this play spends much of its time conversing in innuendo. The two deliciously smarmy hotel staff who we meet are called Gabe and Angela (Sam Eastop and Abigail Sinclair). One of the guests (Martina Vondrova) is kicked out for ordering too much room-service (i.e. Gluttony), whilst Ashley’s brother has been over-affectionate with a guy he had picked up in the gym (i.e. Lust). The stupidity of the characters who don’t recognise their whereabouts could easily become maddening, and yet there is a suspense throbbing steadily underneath the story that keeps us engaged.
We soon know very well what the surprise of this play is and we are watching on only to see when and how the different characters are surprised. There is some beautiful writing and acting when it gradually dawns on Ashley that the Hotel Manager possesses exactly the same personality as the disciplinarian father who she has spent her whole life fleeing from.
One never feels that the hotel could be a dream or a hallucination. If one can legitimately compare “Hotel” with “Time of Terror,” the latter is largely a mysterious story, whereas the former commits to building up an ever steeper horror. The final five minutes of “Hotel” are shocking and genuinely distressing.
Eastop understands that horror will never get anywhere unless it is sadistic. He ends up fielding the oldest Judeo-Christian God, the one untempered by Christianity, the patriarch and martinet who had ordered Abraham to bind his own son Isaac. As with Abraham, the characters in this play have to prioritise the rules (in their case, of the hotel) over their loved ones. The Hotel Manager loves his guests conditionally – based purely on how obedient they are – and their reward is to linger forevermore in the stultifying boredom of his hotel, where they are not allowed to pig themselves on the complementary pizza or have howling sex in their rooms. Jesus is absent – he is no doubt forlornly filling up a dishwasher somewhere.
“Hotel” dares us. Surely human freedom and the alternative available accommodation cannot be any worse than this hotel? But would we be really brave enough to choose them? Or would we peep down and crumple, like Ashley does, grovelling away our principles and willing to ditch the ones we love?