SLY Theatre - Hotel
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SLY Theatre - Hotel

8th August 2009.

From the Newbury Weekly News.

Hotel reunion for actors

Shining Lights: Hotel, at New Greenham Arts, on Saturday, August 8

Checking into a hotel room gives you the powerful release of anonymity, yet the interweaving stories in Caryl Churchill's Hotel gave the audience at New Greenham Arts an insight into something much deeper. Portrayed by the Shining Lights' cast, seven seemingly separate predicaments were interwoven with engaging ensemble work and enthusiasm.

We caught only snippets of the lives of a couple (Lucy Butler, Carl Stallwood) having an affair, two gay men (Alec Hopkins, Tom Harland) struggling to come to terms with their relationship, a business woman (Charlotte Allen) apart from her loved ones, and a person seemingly obsessed with birds (Jessica Welch) - and had to make our own decisions about the outcomes.

The themes were loss and disappearance, something that was conveyed effectively from the outset by the stunning set design.

It's hard to believe that Shining Lights have been working with young people for 10 years now, regularly impressing audiences with outstanding productions.

For Hotel, 10 years of company members came together to rehearse and perform the play in just one week, culminating with the performance on Saturday night.

The play tells the story of seven couples occupying the same hotel on the same night, with an overriding narrative arc of a lost diary tying together each of the scenarios.

The cast shared the stage for the duration of the play, and used the space well, effectively portraying not only that they were in separate hotel rooms but also the interweaving nature of their tales and the claustrophobic feel of so many lives being lived in one building. Praise must go to Pete Watt's direction for this atmospheric achievement.

As well as the familiar rituals that go with every hotel stay - channel surfing, coffee drinking, being disturbed by the arguments and drunken caterwauling of other guests - there were also some moments that jarred with the realism of the piece.

For instance, a very impressive ghost (Sophie Hicklin) popped up out of nowhere, projected onto a screen with a haunting vocal refrain, and for some reason all the hotel guests were far more modest than most of us in reality, retiring to the bathroom to change and wearing more clothes to sleep in than they had been wearing that day.

Hotel was originally written and produced as a jazz opera, and this was apparent through the melodic feel of the piece. Carl Stallwood began the show with a mesmerising rendition of New York State of Mind and the repeated refrains, pauses and songlike interjections of the French couple (Marc Godfrey and Aine McGarvey) gave a certain musicality to the evening. The violence of the drunk couple (Abi Preston, Neil Edlin) counterpointed beautifully the indifference of the US man (James Elliott) to his long-suffering wife (a haunting performance from Katie Hartley-Kane).

At times it felt as if there could have been more urgency to the proceedings, with the conversations not quite overlapping as they should, which would have given the play more of a polished outcome.

One of the nicest parts of the evening, however, was reading the company biographies in the programme. It's great to see how many happy memories Shining Lights have given cast members past and present, but also how successful each of them have become in their own fields. Shining Lights surely gives as much delight and enjoyment to their cast as they do to their audience.

JENNIFER COLLINS