Above and Beyond
Katie Lyons and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm
Look Left Look Right
From Wesker’s The Kitchen and Storey’s The Contractor to James Graham‘s This House, the theatre has often given a fascinating look behind the scenes in other people’s work places. Above and Beyond shows us what it is like to be on the staff of a luxury hotel.
It is staged in the elegant Corinthia Hotel on the corner of Northumberland Avenue and Whitehall Place, just opposite the Playhouse, one of an international chain of glamorously opulent hotels and resorts of which this is the flagship. This performance enables you to explore its diverse attractions from its glitzy public rooms to its comfortable suites and bedrooms, its quiet dining rooms and comfortable bars, to its sparkling health spa as well as the intricate but pristine white corridors.
This a piece of what is increasingly being called “immersive” theatre in which you, the audience member, are at the centre of the show. In this case you in the singular for you will be on your own—this is a very personal experience.
I can’t tell you too much about the show, in fact I’ve been asked not to, for it would end the surprise and so lessen the pleasure. So: no details. But I can tell you it is a very varied experience that draws not only on the demands put on today’s hotel staff but on the building's history.
This was not always the Corinthia. It started life at the end of the nineteenth century as the Metropole Hotel, a very grand hotel indeed, patronised by society and the Prince of Wales (soon to be Edward VII). In 1936 it was taken over by the government. As part of the Ministry of Defence it housed an arm of the Secret Service.
From the moment that you check in the show has started. Are those people at the table over there just ordinary guests or part of the story? What is going to turn up as you turn the corner of the corridor? This is a show that is indeed full of surprises. The sequence of very different playlets of which it is made up is not so much a continuous narrative as a dreamscape, changing suddenly perhaps into a different time, a new situation, and sometimes back again and at the end coming together as a whole .
Guests range from bickering couples to gay celebs, even a very ordinary chap who makes you wonder how he can afford it. But then these days you can never tell; millionaires may dress down and look like tramps. It isn’t wise to judge people by appearance, especially the guy who looks back from the mirror.
Of course, you will encounter the hotel’s staff: is that a chambermaid passing you as you make for the lift a real one or part of the show? There are all types here from those in a frantic hurry to the gentle and relaxed, from tense head butlers and a one-up waiter to an affable hotel manager.
After the disorienting first few minutes, when you need to keep your wits about you and not lag behind, if you join in and play the game as well as enjoy the stories of which you are part, this becomes an intriguing journey with many delightful moments. You won’t be asked to cook, wash-up, scrub floors—nothing more demanding than pour tea and give people a little help where needed.
There’s another audience following you every seven minutes or so, so each scene has to be compact and to the point. They are all beautifully acted and I do wish I could tell you more. There is a cast of 20 plus one person playing themself.
The artistic director is Mimi Poskitt assisted by Ellie Browning and Joanna Scotcher and since there is no curtain call to applaud them. I do so here. Bravo!
To book tickets, e-mail the hotel box office at [email protected] or telephone 020 7321 3133.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton