When you arrive at Hotel Europe, where you’re from doesn’t matter. But your key could take you anywhere. Explore a building where behind every door is a new story, a new place, a new perspective. Part interactive theatre, part audio installation, these five aural snapshots give the listener privileged access to secret histories, treasured, passed down, forgotten, or threatened.
Here’s an exclusive interview with producer David Ralf:
Thanks for talking to Break A Leg, David. Tell me about Hotel Europe.
Hotel Europe is a series of audio & design installations in five hotel rooms at Green Rooms Hotel in Wood Green. We commissioned five writers to each tell us a story about Europe. We kept the brief as broad as possible, and we’ve ended up with five hugely different stories, talking about everything from dual citizenship and Welsh mine closures, to fleeing Nazis and restrictions on free movement.
The stories also vary in terms of genre – encapsulating personal histories, ghost stories and even political dystopias, and we hope that each room will be its own little world, designed around the audio performances that we’ve recorded. Audience members will enter and listen to each piece on their own, in an order they choose. It’s a meditative and exploratory experience.
What was the inspiration?
Isley Lynn, who wrote the fantastic Skin a Cat (Vaults & The Bunker) and Philipp Ehrmann, an Austrian director who works in immersive and interactive theatre, had been talking about creating some site specific work in a hotel. On the morning after the EU Referendum result, Isley and I chatted about creating some rapid response work following the Brexit decision. And as we talked further the two ideas began to feel like they might have something to offer one another.
I’m really pleased that we didn’t try to make something two weeks after the Brexit result – sometimes theatre can do that kind of immediate work really well, but I think that that bit of distance from the result makes the reflection offered in these pieces a bit less argumentative (pro or con) and a bit more contemplative, which I think is maybe of more use to people right now.
We want audiences to be thinking about borders, and citizenship, and belonging, and union, not necessarily about Article 50. I love the idea of Europe being a collection of countries like a hotel is a collection of rooms, and I love all the imprecise associations that it calls to mind.
What can we expect from the various characters?
There’s so much variety. There are twenty characters across the five pieces. We have Italian grandmothers and booming-voiced underground creatures, illegal aliens and all manners of naturalised parents – that’s one of the really interesting things that’s come out of this project – several of the pieces are written from the second- and third-generation immigrant experience, what they call the ‘dreamers’ in America, and here are just folks trying to synthesise two different cultures. There’s those questions of how you raise your children if they have no experience of your homeland, whether they should learn your native language, and whether they are, or can be citizens of two places. They’re all characters who are wrestling with identity, but not in an abstract way – in a feet-on-the-ground, life-changing-decisions-to-be-made way!
Did you have particular actors in mind to play the roles? What were you looking for from each performer?
I directed the audio performances of the pieces, with the fantastic sound designer Will Alder at my side, and got in a fantastic cast. It was a serious challenge to find people who could get to grips with some of the challenges that the accents, languages, and emotional precision that these pieces demanded. But because you’re recording the performances, you can get brilliant and busy actors to come in and do half a day of work. I worked with a bunch of fantastic actors that I’d encountered previously at The Hope Theatre (where I’m an Associate Producer) including Lin Sagovsky, Greg Ashton, and Dan Simpson, and actors that I’ve wanted to work with for ages, such as Liz Jadav who had a day off the tour of The Twits and came in to the studio, and Jessica Clark who worked with Isley on Skin A Cat. Tom Black, one of our writers who has written and performed with DugOut Theatre for years (Swansong, Inheritance Blues) came in and recorded one of the parts in his piece. And there were brand new faces as well, recommended by other folk on the team, and by the writers themselves.
Finally, sell it to me and my readers!
Wherever you’re from, and where ever you feel you belong on this continent, this is a chance to immerse yourself in five different European tales, historical and personal, real and imaginary, hidden inside a working hotel.
Thanks to David for a fantastic interview, wishing you all the best with it!