Devised by Massimiliano Rossetti and Annabel Carberry
20th – 24th Feb 2019
Relative newcomer to London that I am, I had never been to Highgate in North London before this evening. I didn’t expect, on exiting the tube station, to enter such a beautifully leafy, quiet, almost quaint community! The Jacksons Lane Art Centre is located in a former Methodist church, built in the Gothic style, and the decor inside mixes cosy charm with old church pews. On settling down in the theatre to watch the show (and I think I was about the only adult without a small child in tow), I began to suspect that this was going to be old-style family fun circus, matching its venue. I was right: Hotel Paradiso was exactly the mix of acrobatics, slapstick clowning, pantomime, and melodrama which has been entertaining families for centuries. The plot – about the ragtag staff of a once noble hotel, banding together to fight the evil Banker – was absolutely paint-by-numbers, often made very little sense (as acknowledged by its narrator), and mainly existed as a framing device around the various circus acts.
These acts included a fair amount of tightly choreographed group acrobatics, as well as aerial performance, juggling, balancing, and hula hoop work. Three of the six performers tended to be the ones doing most of the show’s acts, with the other three seeming underutilised in supporting roles. One performer in particular seemed to be having a rough night, with a fair few fumbles and trips, though these were carried well in-character with an oafish “oops” and goofy grin.
Although the three male performers in Hotel Paradiso did bear the responsibility for all the acrobatic base work, it was really the women who carried this show. Natasha Rushbrooke as chambermaid Talia was elfinly lovely in all her acts, and I found myself especially on tenterhooks watching her twist her limbs into impossible positions as she balanced on a precarious stack of chairs. Her character had virtually no lines, and existed as very little beyond a wide-eyed, beautiful, coquettish young girl, but she played this role with as much sweetness and humour as possible. The character of her mother – the Madame of the hotel – was played by Annabel Carberry, a company director at Lost in Translation. Carberry’s hula hooping skit (featuring more hoops than is compatible with drinking a glass of wine) was definitely the main highlight of the show, combining finely-tuned acrobatic skill with excellent comedy. Some light googling on my way home on the tube revealed that this routine is a staple of Carberry’s, usually performed as a solo act called “A Glass of Red”. It had been lifted wholesale, inserted into Hotel Paradiso, and tweaked slightly to be more or less plot-adjacent… and I loved it!
However, other than in these two women’s acts, the rest of the show did have a tendency to drag and feel repetitive. I am the least flexible and coordinated person I know, so it feels a bit rich to judge these performers, but I’ve seen a lot of excellent circus in the past year and this company couldn’t really compete. That said, this show wasn’t really for the circus connoisseur – it was for the children in the crowd, who I often observed at the edge of their seat, gaze transfixed, mouth agape, sometimes letting slip loud gasps or exclamations of “she’s going to fall!!” Anything that can keep the enraptured attention of an audience full of four-year-olds must have some spark of magic to it, and so on consideration, I think Hotel Paradiso can best be described as an excellent alternative to the cinema or local playground for anyone with small children.
Previous review: A Wake in Progress, Fine Mess Theatre @ Vault Festival Cage