Friday, October 15, 2021

The Grimm Hotel – who knew that Cityside Retail Park had so many spooky rooms! (Cahoots NI until 31 October as part of Belfast International Arts Festival) #BIAF21

The nights are getting long and Halloween is just around the corner. You could check in somewhere for a nice break, or lose yourself in a creepy story. Or perhaps you could do both. Check into The Grimm Hotel in Cityside Retail Park and experience Cahoots NI’s latest production which opened as part of Belfast International Arts Festival.

The brightly dressed bellhop will greet you in the foyer and keep you teased and entertained until the receptionist has checked you off his list. And then you’ll enter the mysterious hotel through a door you’ll never have noticed before between Home Bargains and the Chinese buffet restaurant.

Expect to be confronted with reimagined stories from the Brothers Grimm in numbered rooms – 210 rooms, one for each fairy tale, and would you risk doubting the legendary tellers of tales? – dotted along long, winding corridors.

The Grimm Hotel is an exercise in control. A mixture of lighting, background music, sleight of hand, visual effects, and live performances will greet you and maybe even grab you in every new location as your group’s bell hop guides you through the treats on offer.

Maybe you’re not quite ready to sit shoulder to shoulder with strangers in a theatre auditorium? Maybe going to the theatre isn’t your thing and you want something you can park outside for free and get the weekly shopping on the way home? Maybe you were intrigued by some of Cahoots NI’s online Zoom shows and want to see the live action version?

Each cohort of guests that enters the hotel is small, and there’s plenty of space to stay in your bubble and sit away from other families who checked in at the same time. Audience members, I mean, guests will be called upon to decide where the group goes next, and maybe even to rescue a trapped character from one of the stories before being guided through to the next scene in another location.

After months of theatres lying dark and stage shows either happening outside, online or not at all, it was great to enjoy the acting talents and familiar faces of Kyron Bourke, Hugh W. Brown, Holly Hannaway, Allison Harding, Sean Kearns, Caolan McBride, Lennin Nelson-McClure and Philippa O’Hara, along with the words and music from Charles Way, Paul Bosco Mc Eneaney and Garth McConaghie. And the design work by Diana Ennis and David Morgan certainly adds to the immersive experience. As does the hard work of the pixies behind the scenes who make some of the magic happen and keep the technology working.

Fans of previous Cahoots’ shows will have flashbacks to years gone by, particularly with the musical treat from a red cloaked girl who’s not so afraid of a big bad wolf crooning away at an extraordinary piano. For me – and as an adult attending alone, I’m decades older than the intended audience and you should heed much more the wowed reviews of parents who attended with children than listen to me! – while enormous effort have gone into creating the hotel environment and pulling off the spectacular illusions, and while the characterisations are very solid (Hannaway’s red elf and Kearn’s shoemaker were particular favourites), I found the actual stories more distant and less enthralling than Cahoots’ purely online University of Wonder and Imagination.

The producers reckon The Grimm Hotel is suitable from children aged 8 and upwards. There are a few scary moments, but nothing reaching out and holding hands won’t overcome. Do wrap up well as the hotel’s heating system is a bit grimm, but you’ll find the welcome warm throughout your 75-minute stay inside the north Belfast venue.

The doors of The Grimm Hotel are open six days a week until 31 October with staggered entrance times up to 7pm in the evening. While the run had nearly sold out, some additional tickets and performances have been released and are now on sale.

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