It is an unusual thing to be doing on a rainy Monday night: covered in a plastic poncho sitting on a wet chair spying on guests in a hotel on an industrial site near King’s Cross.
There is a reason. It is the press night for Electric Hotel, a new touring dance performance produced by Fuel and co-commissioned by Sadler’s Wells. The premise is inventive and intriguing: audiences are invited to watch the goings-on inside a specially built ‘hotel’ while listening to the action through headphones. We are silent voyeurs, cocooned by our headsets into the world playing out before our eyes.
It starts with a frisson. Someone is walking up behind us, shoes crunching on gravel. The ‘vacancies’ sign on the hotel frontage flickers neon red and then switches off, as though the mysterious arrival has taken the last room.
Of course, being conceived and co-directed by Shunt’s David Rosenberg, this is no ordinary hotel and no ordinary night. Rather than a linear narrative, Electric Hotel presents a surreal world in which events replicate, guests break into spontaneous dance and a maid feeds a wild animal – a tiger, the programme informs us – in a cupboard.
On the top floor restaurant, guests are enjoying dinner and drinks. A pregnant woman emerges from the rooftop pool. Below them, a businesswoman tests the bed for comfort, a lady in red sits distraught and a man-boy plays guitar. Soon, someone in a motorcycle helmet arrives with a strange blue box. The pool woman and her partner have an argument. The lady in red walks into a closet.
How the piece was rehearsed is anyone’s guess. The dancers’ movements are so precisely in time with the soundtrack coming through the headphones that you wonder if they are hearing it too, or perhaps they are dancing to their own silent, internal music. The pool woman blows her nose; the maid sprays a can of hairspray; the motorcyclist walks up and down stairs; we hear it all in amplified detail.
A programme note says Electric Hotel “eventually reaches a point where it can no longer contain its contents and its own guts are spilled”. When it does so, the performance only gets more surreal, turning the events that have gone before upside down and confounding any ideas you may already have formed about the characters.
There is no neat end to the show. No conclusions can be made. Instead, when the headphones are discarded, the audience leaves the guests in this strange hotel to their own bizarre destiny.