Review from: Underbelly Festival, London; 1st August 2021
A warm welcome awaits at Lost In Translation‘s Hotel Paradiso – from the moment you ‘check in’ to the Spiegeltent in Cavendish Square you will be greeted by the bumbling yet charming staff of the hotel. The lights, the costumes, the upbeat music, it all makes me feel great to be back watching the circus!
Covid restrictions still apply of course, so with our faces masked and hands sanitised we enter… and it does take a while. Everyone finding their socially distanced seats can be trickier to organise than running a hotel it seems! So what a lovely addition to have the cast present on stage throughout the process, guiding people down rows and generally keeping us all entertained until the show starts. It gives us plenty of time to soak up the set too: a welcome desk with bell, a couple of doors leading to other parts of the ‘hotel’, hand balancing chairs conspicuously placed about, an aerial hoop decked out to look like a chandelier, and large billowy fabric covering the entire back portion of the stage. To the regular circus attendee that just screams ‘big equipment reveal at the end’!
Our narrator/compere for the evening is the concierge, ‘Sarg’, played by Lawrence Swaddle, who is clearly a fan of the Wes Anderson film The Grand Budapest Hotel. His character performance draws many similarities to that of the film’s lead: purple suit, moustache, formal, job proud, presentable and just eeeeever so slightly camp. He makes a wonderful first impression. Telling the history of the hotel, with the clever use of the fabric background as a shadow theatre by the other cast members, we learn of the Hotel Paradiso’s troubled past. Then we are introduced to our hotel staff, which leads us to our first act, a trick filled dance number giving us a little taste of whats to come. The plot’s conflict is revealed when we learn the hotel must come up with a sum of money in 24 hours or it will be sold! Cue the role call of circus acts, punctuated throughout with constant reminders that time is running out! But don’t worry, it wouldn’t get a family friendly rating if it didn’t turn out alright in the end.
For a relatively small cast there’s a good range of circus skills in the show. We get plenty of hand-to-hand acro and various tumbling/acro dance moments peppered into the change-overs and story segments. There is, of course, a hoop act using the chandelier – our hotel maid, played by Natasha Rushbrook, finds herself stranded up there while dusting. The act has a lovely build in tricks, some of which get the first real big reactions from the crowd. A foot hang and some tricks while spinning also get great reactions, while mixed in are some hangs and moves that incorporate the chandelier extensions, which is a nice touch. A brief bar flare act from juggler Matthew Green subs in alcohol bottles for clubs, and he pulls off some impressive tricks. The three bottle juggle with a balance into four isn’t as solid as it should be for an end of act trick though, and unfortunately a drop proving the glass isn’t real noticeably dampens the audience’s reactions to the next tricks. But his character is the comedic foil in this show and he plays it off with a cheeky smile and some goofy moves. Next up, a noticeable favourite among the adults in the audience is Abigail Collins‘ hula-hoop routine. As a drunk desperate to pour a glass of wine without stopping the hula-hoop, its concept is simple and genius. Despite it not being a trick filled act, it’s sure to be a memorable one for the audience with plenty of laughs and lovely delivery of the clown elements.
The finale of Korean cradle is a lovely reveal, and Roisin Morris blows us away with her skills. It’s great to see this rather unique and relatively unknown prop get a good outing. Roisin is by far the strongest performer. Her skills, of which she has many, seem effortless, and she is given some of the most comedic moments in the whole show. Her character is the catalyst for action and conflict on stage, every time she enters the audience sit up a little more in anticipation.
Overall, this is a lovely little circus show, perfect for a family day out. Plenty of simple joking and clowning for the young ones and a story that you would find hard to bamboozle anyone with. Just enough circus blended with story to make it work. Actually, thats maybe the best thing about this show. Every element is story focused. Each prop and act feels like it should be in the show. Which doesn’t sound like much when you put it that way, but after seeing many other shows try and fail to be theatre circus its nice to see one that gets the balance right. There’s just enough story to keep things connected, but also enough action and tricks to make it really feel like a circus. The circus skills are blended in well by transforming props into objects in the hotel, and theres always a connection to the story with every act.
It’s not a perfect show, by any means. Take a child over seven and you might find they roll their eyes more than laugh, the whole thing is very ‘tame’. There are elements of risk, sure, but they don’t ever feel real. It’s a ‘CBeebies feel’ circus, and it often seems like our performers could do far greater things if not for the constraints of the show and its plot. Every act feels a bit cut short to fit into the time frame, and nothing ever really gets our hearts racing. The script is fine, there are jokes, but they haven’t been given to someone with real funny bones, and there’s not enough comedy in it to call it a truly funny show. There’s so much space in between a joke or funny moment the audience is often surprised by it, and we have to give ourselves a shake and think “thats right, this is supposed to be a funny show”.
Another issue is with the performance set up in the Spiegeltent, using a three-sided stage with seating and booths around the edges. A lot of the acts don’t transfer well to ‘the round’ and, despite sitting on the front row, being at the side meant a lot of the delivery – visuals and gags – was aimed end on and missed us. Token gestures to the left and right just don’t cut it when two thirds of your audience are there.
If you’re looking for summer holiday activities to brighten your day, Hotel Paradiso fits the bill. A cheery, safe story-packed show will be a perfect introduction for children to the wonderful world of circus. As an adult, maybe let your brain check out for a bit, this ones for the kids.