The swinging 60s are dead. A dilapidated hotel waits at the end of a small pier, yearning to be restored to it’s former glory. It’s guests have seen better days, hoping to mend their broken hearts with the newly developed ‘ACHE’ program.
And this is where we, the audience, come in. Under the premise of ‘mending our broken hearts so that we may love again’, we’re invited to participate in the ACHE program at the Heartbreak Hotel, a new play from theatre company Zebedee Productions, directed by Sam Curtis-Lindsay. Upon arrival we check in at the concierge desk, receive our room number, and check out the facilities while our room is being prepared.
A few shabby fairground rides, flashy lights, and a Heartbreak Hut (presumably for relationship counselling) make up the deck outside. Battered posters echoing the hotel’s glory days line the walls of the hotel’s facade. And while you are chowing down on your fish & chips or locally sourced organic BBQ, you can amuse yourself by speaking to other guests with the telephones. I would highly recommend ringing table 9 to sell the un-expecting strangers non existent products – such as heartbreak insurance, or a bigger mallet for the fairground Ring The Bell.
When the rooms are ready, you are called to enter the hotel. The flickering corridors are reminiscent of the novelty queues on theme park rides, but you quickly enter your first room and the stories begin to play out. Different guests begin their experience in different rooms, mixing up the narrative. This is to echo the nature of relationships – after all no two heartbreaks are the same.
You wander around the interlocking rooms for about an hour, glimpsing into people’s relationships and sex lives. The use of sets (Carla Goodman) is quite innovative – in one room you watch the action play out as if you are on the ceiling. In another you join the guests around the bathtub of a large communal bathroom. The narratives interlock nicely with one another, and we see a twisted love story play out between one of ACHE’s founders (Jack Brown) and the maid (Lucy Benson-Brown).
One particular room stood out from the rest. The room of random objects, collected by one man to represent the guest’s emotional ties to their previous relationships. Manned by ‘The Guest Host’ (Brad Clapson) this is one of the truly immersive rooms that makes you feel like you are really part of the action. You sing with him, dance with him and laugh with him. In this room it doesn’t feel like it’s just his performance – it’s yours too.
‘Immersive’ is a word rife in theatre land at the moment. From Secret Cinema to Punchdrunk, and Alice’s Adventures Underground, this new wave of theatre brings you closer to the stories you know so well. But what makes these immersive experiences so incredible, is that they put you in the spotlight, and give you a character to play, letting you create your own story.
In the Heartbreak Hotel, I wanted to feel more involved in the storyline. The ACHE program fought for attention with the stories of the lovers. As a voyeur, you don’t really get anything more from watching this sort of performance than you would from a traditional stage play. The concept of a ‘Heartbreak Hotel’ is a fantastic one. If the writers slung the traditional playwriting strategy, concentrated more on the narrative for the audience, and ramped up the ACHE program, it could have been a mind-blowing experience.
Heartbreak Hotel runs until 30th August 2015 at The Jetty in London’s Greenwich. For more information and ‘reservations’, visit www.thejettygreenwich.co.uk.