Review: Electric Hotel at Goods Way, King's Cross, NW1

Performance: 2 - 26 June 2010
Reviewed by Lise Smith - Friday 4 June 2010

Electric Hotel, 2-19 June, Goods Way, King's Cross. Photo: Ben Dowden

David Rosenberg and Frauke Requardt’s: Electric Hotel
King’s Cross, 3 June 2010

In the not-very-salubrious environs of King’s Cross Gas Holder 8, there’s a new addition to the landscape. Electric Hotel is billed as a piece of “pop-up” theatre, a touring work that takes place in public locations not usually associated with theatre in its own purpose-built set. I’m not certain how easy it is to “pop-up” the four storey building that is the eponymous hotel; designer Börkur Jónsson‘s fascinating programme note tells us the set is constructed from oversize shipping containers, and that he’s not really sure how well they will survive transit. The whole concept of touring a work that itself takes place in a touring building is dazzlingly audacious, and there’s a real buzz in the audience as we take our seats outside.

The experience of watching a performance through hotel windows, eavesdropping on the interior action on headphones, feels something like a trip to the cinema and something like live voyeurism. Staring into the rooms, we glimpse partial narratives – a couple fight, a lonely woman cowers in a corner, something growls in a cupboard – that play out in non-linear, recurring episodes.

The piece nods more than once to the greats of film noir – the hip-swivelling lounge singer in the penthouse restaurant could happily feature in any David Lynch road movie, the non-linear chronology recalls Tarantino, and the audience’s own context – watching through a window – is familiar to fans of Hitchcock’s Rear Window. Scenes wrap around, characters move in slow motion, and the repetition of phrases directs our gaze to different aspects of the scene; each time a movement phrase repeats, we hear it play out to a soundtrack from another room, illuminating the characters in a different way.

The soundtrack itself is something quite spectacular – created in collaboration with the Ear Institute, the recording uses an array of highly technical recording techniques to simulate the listener’s presence in a three-dimensional room. Although the performers are separated from us by both physical distance and glass windows, we can hear their every breath, bounce and pillow-fluff. The effect is both comic and unnerving, oddly intimate but with the noises unfamiliar in their closeness.

Frauke Requardt‘s gesture-led choreography, scratches at the arms and pulls at the elbow that grow into wild spins and jumps, suggests a cast of people uncomfortable in their own skins. The choreography is built on moments of fleeting unison, shared connections between the characters that go unnoticed through concrete walls. Performers react to the same sound, people in different rooms pick up on the movement of a dancing woman upstairs, people come together for a moment in the corridor before moving on again. The fly-by-night theme extends from the pop-up hotel itself to the connections between the characters – there for a moment, then gone again.

Gradually, the moments of unison, overheard soundscapes and recurring scenes build into the suggestion of a narrative – a loss, a mourning, a haunting memory. The later scenes of the performance, dominated by demonic-looking figures and a DV8-ish vocabulary of violent throws and catches, stand in some contrast to the more compact movement and intriguing flashes of narrative glimpsed in the first half. Some may have longed for more resolution of the narrative – I actually would have preferred less. The unreliable voyeur in me wanted to stay with theme explored in the earlier part of the show, the license to invent stories and contexts for the people you are eavesdropping on.

To say that this is an ambitious project is a four-storey understatement: a touring building, choreography on multiple floors, and an extremely sophisticated soundscore that sets the viewers right within the action even from forty feet away. But Rosenberg, Requardt and their cast of seven fine dancers pull off the feat with aplomb. Part noir, part people-watching excursion, and completely fun, Electric Hotel isn’t like anything I’ve seen before or expect to see again. But it’s definitely something to see here before it pops off again.

*_Electric Hotel_ is at King’s Cross until Saturday 26 June. (The run has been extended) Tickets available from Sadler’s Wells www.sadlerswells.com

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