Hotel Methuselah

imitating the dog and Pete Brooks
imitating the dog
West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds
(2006)

Production image

Hotel Methuselah is described as "a contemporary ghost story that explores our fears around mortality, sexuality and the terrifying sense of responsibility that comes with having children a stunning homage to post-war British cinema and the French new wave". An ambitious undertaking indeed, bearing in mind the fact that the piece is barely an hour long.

Hotel Methuselah is the story of Harry (Simon Wainwright), who works as a night porter at one of those formerly grand but now decaying hotels to be found all over Europe. A war is in progress and the city is under curfew, but Harry seems to be content with his undemanding job. He checks in the mysterious Amy (Morven Macbeth), a young widow who carries a gun in her handbag, and fends off the advances of the resident Weird Woman (Anna Wilson). A Weird Man (Richard Malcolm) pops up occasionally - possibly from one of Harold Pinter's first drafts - to regale Harry with his interest in etymology ("buggery derives from the word Bulgar").

It's enough to make anyone hand in their notice, but Harry has a problem: he has no memory of his life before he came to work at the Hotel. Is he an ex-soldier? Did he abandon a wife and baby? Are the inhabitants of Hotel Methuselah already dead and in a two-star hell? More to the point, after the novelty of imitating the dog's fusion of video projection and live action wears off, does anyone really care?

The company's performance style is undoubtedly clever, but it's too clever for its own good. For most of the time the actors are seen from the neck down, performing in front of large video projections of their faces. These beautiful black and white images - filmed by Rodrigo Valasquez, Monica Alcazar and Richard Malcolm - really do succeed in creating a film noir ambience, but they also make the live action virtually redundant. Not even a couple of gravity-defying scenes in which we see the flesh-and-blood actors from above can conceal the fact that the whole thing is basically a gimmick, although it helps to distract one's attention from the banal dialogue. The most charitable verdict on Hotel Methuselah must be that the play is marginally less pretentious than the programme notes.

At La Comedie de Saint-Etienne, France, on the 19th and 20th December

Reviewer: J. D. Atkinson