A colourful aesthetic doesn’t manage to disguise a slight lack of playfulness and cohesion in Lost in Translation’s family-focused Hotel Paradiso. Stunts engage its young audience, but I’m unconvinced its narrative or characters capture many hearts.
It’s easy to understand the appeal of a hotel-themed narrative and aesthetic for a circus company. The array of mismatched, identifiable and easily caricature-able characters it allows, the fun that can be had playing with the power dynamics between guests/menials/senior staff – and the abundance of opportunities for chaos & mischief that Faulty Towers attributed to the industry. Indeed, Lost in Translation aren’t the only company playing in this space right now: Cirque Eloize’s latest (currently at the Peacock) is an albeit adult-focused and big-budget stint in the same territory.
Hotel Paradiso (not to be confused with Familie Flöz’s production of the same name) is a sweeter and more humble affair – aimed at those aged ‘3-103’ and here reviewed at Jacksons Lane in the more formal of its forms. Previous production shots suggest it has predominantly existed as an al fresco/ ‘festival’-suitable affair, which makes a lot of sense after watching – and I’d guess was perhaps the context it was initially devised for.
In a black-box space, where narrative takes on more significant than for an audience who’ll likely wonder past and catch a random 10 minutes as part of their trek through Glastonbury’s family field, the stunts are frequently impressive but story is neither entirely cohesive or particularly tailored to appeal to its young audience. On paper, the concept sounds really promising: a group of bumbling hotel staff do what they can to prevent an evil banker from closing down their workplace. You expect and yearn a sort of ‘Home Alone’-type set up: ample pranks pulled on the antagonist (which’d delight the under-10’s), with circus wizardry of course smartly woven into every antic.
In practice, the staff’s dilemma is established in rather complicated language for little ones to get their heads around (niche legal jargon than even my 25-year old brain wasn’t quite prepared for) – and as the text reveals itself to be a tad wishy-washy and unstructured, you wonder why the company decided to rely on any at all to either set the scene or continue it. There’s no denying this cast are highly-skilled circus performers and, as you’d expect, very comfortable in their physicality. Hotel Paradiso’s dialogue doesn’t elicit much humour of its own (it almost exclusively comes from the ‘acts’ themselves or physical comedy moments) and isn’t delivered particularly confidently – so seems out of place and in the way of the ‘good stuff’.
Annabel Carberry’s hula hoop routine is the unequivocal setpiece of the 60-minute performance: a sublimely slick and ambitious act formed around a beautifully simple conceit, that a glass of wine must be poured and consumed regardless of what else is going on around her. The challenge the character sets herself, without one word of explanation necessary, is compelling and electrifying for both the tots and their respective adults alike – and you yearn for the rest of the piece to be as unfussy and clear.
In festival environments, frenetic direction is arguably less of an issue – as part of the objective is to overwhelm the senses and stand out against the entertainers positioned either side of their plot fighting for attention. But inside a studio, the piece’s action often feels a little hectic and more attention could be payed to pulling necessary focus and letting individual tricks and character interactions breathe more.
Don’t get me wrong – the kids in attendance on press night had a fun time and left with a spring in their step. But just not to the extent that I’ve seen other family-focused circus pieces capture imaginations or hearts. Lost in Translation have the tricks down, and the performers capable of executing them, but perhaps just need to bring a kids theatre expert onboard – to refine each sequence to really make that (surprisingly discerning) audience belly-laugh and squeal with delight.