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Hotel Follies

A dance revue by Christopher Marney
Arts Theatre
(2009)

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It is great to see revue back in the West End, even if for only such a brief show-case run as this is at the Arts. Christopher Marney's eclectic mixture of song and dance itself looks back to those heady days of the mid-twentieth century when shows from Sweetest and Lowest to Share My Lettuce would pack in the punters with numbers by Noël Coward, Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, Kurt Weill and a song by Piaf, plus a Stephen Sondheim number and familiar themes from the classical dance repertoire. With the aid of designer Sofie C Guerrero's costumes, piles of luggage and Mike Rothwell's lighting, it offers a world of bellboys and bandboxes in an old style Grand Hotel.

The cast are all given character types as hotel staff and guests and we are introduced to them with an extended opening to Elgar's Pomp and Circumstance March: the Romantic, the Stud, the Wannabe, the Predator etc - including the Chameleon who does a costume sex-change on arrival to reflect a split personality. Though the individual numbers are matched to character there is no linking story - nor is one needed, but Marney has placed an emphasis on framing. On one occasion the Barman in his secret hideaway flicks through radio stations to find a range of different numbers, on another a succession of trunk lids are lifted to give snatches of different music while in Film Noir he presents a series of brief dance cameos of movie moments. It risks making things a little too fragmented but this is balanced by more extended pieces.

Though there are no dialogue sketches Alan Mosely gets to deliver John Betjeman's poem The Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel and there is even a speciality act in the form of aerialist Geneviéve Montastesse. Much of the music is recorded but among the live singers Chris Theo-Cook is outstanding with his vocal range and among dancers drawn from Rambert, Northern Ballet and the cast of Cabaret, it was a delight to see the legendary Doreen Wells in an elegant fantasy to Porter's Begin the Beguine.

Roberto Forleo, en travestie as 'Tamara Rioja,' dances his own choreography and that of Joseph Mazilier bringing a touch of Les Ballets Trockadero - though not as funny as one might hope - and there is a delightful pas de deux for two men, choreographed by Matthew Bourne to Coward's Dearest Love (an excerpt from his Town and Country) that is beautifully danced by Marney and Hendrick January, but the rest of the choreography is by Marney himself.

Not everything comes off well but there is much here to enjoy. I particularly liked Wedding Train with bride Beatriz Pasual and groom Marney exploring their uncertainties through three delicately different moods, full of imaginative choreographic ideas with some of it danced beneath a long bridal veil, and the last item on the programme Bartered Brides to music from Minkus's La Bayadére that has three men on a sofa constantly reshaping their relationships before being invaded by a trio of powerful women who end up riding them like horses, a bravura piece that provides a riotous finale.

Until 30th August 2009

Reviewer: Howard Loxton