The Grand Old Opera House Hotel

Isobel MacArthur
Traverse Theatre Company with Dundee Rep Theatre
Traverse Theatre

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The Grand Old Opera House Hotel

It is not difficult to see why Isobel MacArthur is so popular. Her work has taken the best of the mediums she loves and translated them into wonderfully creative stories that are funny, romantic, tragic and enthralling.

Here we get something which would not feel too out of place with a “Here’s Johhny…” or two. It’s a faceless hotel which has nothing working in it properly apart from the domestic staff. They are living in, but in different rooms every night as the hotel, with one eye on their pennies, have them billeted in vacant rooms, which alter nightly.

It means that, after induction and initial staff training, you may never get to see your colleagues ever again. Spooky? Not quite as spooky as the fact that this hotel was once a theatre which had a fire in it. It was housing an opera at the time, and the rumour is that the singers were trapped and are still trapped in the building, haunting it.

And so, Aaron on his first day finds himself running about corridors to find staff training and comes across a vision of beauty, and what he thinks is a ghost. It is another employee who just happens to have a Walkman and opera playing in her ears, with music blaring and smoke behind her, she does look otherworldly. To make things even worse for the poor lad, out of her mouth come the most beautiful noises Aaron has ever heard. He is smitten. But they are both unable to take things any further as they cannot find each other.

And so, the farce and the drama of the piece begins. It is a glorious premise which, of course, ends with both of them finding each other—unfortunately they find each other just as chambermaid—more likely in the corporate new world, a visitation, sanitation specialist—Morag, who was caught having a fly fag at the beginning, has carelessly set the hotel on fire with a discarded cigarette.

Of course, our two romantic leads are then trapped on the roof. The door is stuck—shall they join their opera hosts and sing out their last together, and in each other’s arms?

This has a great premise, and with a cast able to play a plethora of parts that fits with the farcical ideals of running around a hotel hiding from that wife or trying to get sleep whilst there is a hen do next door or you are just trying to deflate inflatables straight out of Private Shops, whilst showing new guests their rooms, this is only lacking a vicar in a cupboard.

But it elevates itself above the standard fare not just by the many costume changes, characters who stay at the hotel and circumstances in which they show themselves adept at playing the script to its full potential—it is also the operatic score. It pitches our cast into the mix of making the notes count, and here it is the context which makes this work at its best. It has been carefully crafted so that the songs make sense and, even when Aaron is trying desperately to get through the corridors, chased by a variety of guests with issues, it makes absolute sense and fits beautifully.

With a production crew onside with an excellent split-level set, creative and tight direction, which ensures the pace is pitched just right, this is an excellent piece of theatre.

By the end, we are left with a dénouement devoutly to be wished—and that is how to craft a production which sings its own drama.

Reviewer: Donald C Stewart

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