Theatre / Reviews

Review: Black Tonic, The Grand Hotel

By martin booth, Friday Oct 2, 2015

I’m hiding in the bathroom of a hotel room. Just me and Marie, the head of housekeeping. As we cower in the dark near the sink, we can hear but not see someone unknown to us riffling through papers, photographs and other assorted objects strewn across the bedroom floor.

Black Tonic at the Grand Hotel in Broad Street is as immersive as theatre gets. But this isn’t a grand promenade for dozens of people at a time in the tradition of the Invisible Circus at places like the former Pro-Cathedral and currently underneath the tunnels of Temple Meads during The Stick House.

Each performance of Black Tonic is only for four people at a time, encountering characters along the way in the bar, in corridors and rooms, following a trail of verbal, written and visual clues.

It’s made by The Other Way Works theatre company and came to Bristol in its original incarnation in 2009 as part of Mayfest.

I spoke to highly strung Sonia (Rochi Rampal) on the stairs, as she told me about her disintegrating marriage and in turn I told her of my own nuptials just over a month ago. 

Interaction with the actors is encouraged. Theatregoers are certainly not passive spectators but an integral part of proceedings.

Then there was Lena (Magda Tuka), a chamber maid who sees everything going on in the hotel, and becomes our own eyes and ears at times as she struggles to adapt to long working hours and punishing night shifts.

As we reached the end of our time in the hotel, we were led by Lena to a downstairs room where a card game has been set up.

With the help of some Pervasive Studio magic from David Haylock at the Watershed, placing individual cards on the table elicited snippets of conversation and other sounds of what we had experienced over the last hour or so slowly fitted into place.

Disorientating, thrilling and remarkably real – as paying hotel guests and staff carried on their normal lives around us – Black Tonic will live long in the memory.

Black Tonic is at The Grand Hotel until October 3. For more information, visit www.theotherwayworks.co.uk/portfolio/black-tonic

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