Opera, at its finest, can speak to you not in Italian, French, or German, but in the language of the boiler man. Found & Lost, Emily Hall’s ‘opera installation’, doesn’t unfurl itself on a lavish West End stage for an 80 quid asking price, but in and amongst the actual engine rooms of a working hotel. Specifically, the Corinthia Hotel: a fancy place, no question, but willing to show you its underbelly in the name of immersive theatre. The idea is that you and your little group circulate from room to room as the music unfolds; the singers and musicians always magically popping up ahead of you, as if by some staff secret passage.
“Check flume, check gas, check flume, check gas” drone the chorus line (or are they maintenance staff?), as they marshal us through the deepest rabbit-holes of the establishment. Along corridors we go, and down lift shafts, and among those all-important boilers humming away in the hotel’s nether-regions. Checking ‘flumes’ and, for that matter, ‘gas’ might not be the lyrical stuff of Madam Butterfly, but as the work’s name implies, this is a question of found poetry. The words themselves have, in fact, been extracted from the likes of health and safety posters and housekeeping checklists: the ‘real’ Corinthia Hotel which we get to see during this show. Suggestions of regimes — of pillow case-changing, and flower-arranging — create cycles of repetition, and the music gets a decidedly rhythmic, sometimes percussive edge as a result.
As the thing plays out, guests and staff go about their business; largely bemused, which is a real watch in itself. It does take a little getting into, even as an audience member. Wonderfully, there’s a lot of ambiguity at first as to who’s actually a part of the performance: a couple supping wine in the lobby turn out to be actors, and indeed, the narrative focus of the piece. Being at once both the most and the least intimate of spaces, a hotel allows for some nice contrasting of the private and public. One room acts as an open forum for businesspeople; another seems to bear witness to a quiet murder. Hall’s music itself has great presence and intensity; if only a little bit less of it was pre-recorded on tape, though. Still, even in this era of Open House, this is a unique ‘behind-the-scene’.
Found & Lost runs until 3 February at Corinthia Hotel London, Whitehall Place, London, SW1A 2BD. Tickets from £20, including a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne. Londonist saw this performance with a complimentary ticket.