Hotel de l’Avenir is a show from graduate students in the CalArts (California Institute of Arts) School of Theater (sic) and has been inspired by their fellow countryman, Henry Miller’s novel, Tropic of Cancer. Published in 1934, this novel caused shock at the time but this show, while similarly looking at the lives of several souls in Paris, is innocence itself. It premiered in New York in 2010.
It is performed by three eager young female actors with few props on a bare stage and stark animation on a white backdrop creating a surreal and effective set harking back to ’20s imagery somehow reminiscent of Felix the Cat (sorry if that’s too esoteric a reference – he was a carton character of the late ’20s). It is very much an ‘American in Paris’, full of clichés of isolated romantics and ingénues arriving in a strange city that’s has more chien shit than light (according to the text, I have to add).
They use mime and clowning, dance and some chanson from a sweet but not so great chanteuse who squeezes rather than plays the accordion, a deliberate ploy and part of the story, so fear not!
It is done very charmingly. Scenes are interspersed with the appearance of a French maid whose pretty silhouette is very striking and this imaginative idea of a real shadow before a screened shadow could really have brought the show to life. The three performed a lovely cheeky can-canesque dance section that was just imperfect enough to steal the show. More of that visual magic is needed to make it live up to the cabaret description.
Silhouettes feature nicely in the backdrop. There is the classic French image of a lost balloon over Parisian roofscapes and the train going over the Arc de Triomphe is both surreal and amusing. Leopoldo, the harassed and gormless wide –eyed character who opens and closes the show, is the recipient of sad slow-flying messages that appear over the imaged flats.
However, there were sections with no action or animation that felt long and could do with being tightened up. In fact if the show was a bit shorter and tighter, like the maid’s outfit, the essence of their message would be stronger in this nonetheless enchanting show.
Showtimes: 5-7, 9-14, 17-20 August, 14.45
Ticket prices: £8 (£5)