Review - Hotel For Criminals (New Wimbledon Studio)

An unnervingly robotic tableaux welcomes audiences into the intimate New Wimbledon Studio. Amid an array of seemingly props and set pieces a blindfold toting gentleman stands, grasping a notebook and pen in string-bound hands. On his right an ominous figure is seated stoically, face obscured by a large paper fan, meanwhile tucked away in the corner of the stage a maid tries in vain to tame a coffin which won't stop swinging open. It's a macabre image, made all the more unsettling once the lights go down and an ear piercing hotel buzzer rattles the small auditorium into subdued submission.
Photo credit - Alessia Chinazzo
An ominous disembodied narrator introduces the audience to the Hotel For Criminals, the Parisian lair of notorious arch criminal Fantomos. The looming figure with a penchant for over the top disguises is brought to life by actor Niccolo Curradi, whose almost serene presence is at odds with Fantomas' dastardly reputation.

But Fantomas isn't the hotel's only nefarious occupant. One by one a barrage of dastardly inhabitants are revealed, each identified by their own unique pose, gait or grimace. Actors Nick Brittain, Ben Rawlings, Louis Rayneau and Tom Whalley make a disturbing barbershop quartet of dadaesque villains, each of whom are intriguing in their own way. Their discordant harmonies ring throughout the show, perfectly amplifying the already jarring and uneasy atmosphere.
Photo credit - Alessia Chinazzo
But arguably the real Big Bad in Hotel For Criminals is vampy Irma Vep, played by the beguiling Kate Baxter . Her intense glares and sultry glances make her a magnetic performer. It is Irma too whose motivations seem clearest, and whose presence seems most threatening. Plainly and simply she's after Fantomas' daughter Helene, and her intentions are that of the blood sucking kind. While Irma Vep's pursuits make up a large part of the overall plot, the other main plot line follows the innocent Helene as she becomes engaged to Max, the blindfolded fellow from the beginning of the show, who happens to be an American journalist keen to discover the hotel's secrets.

Alistair Fredrick and Madelaine Jennings as Max and Helene are like Tim Burton's Anthony and Johanna dialled up to eleven. The former wears a furrowed brow for the entire show, while the latter floats around stage, a virtuoso of whimsical posturing.
Photo credit - Alessia Chinazzo
While each of the characters in Hotel For Criminals is gloriously eerie, the musical itself is a little more polarising.  Although initially quite intriguing, as the plot descends rapidly into disarray it becomes clear that Hotel For Criminals is less about the story (which is entertaining but altogether too fractured to be satisfying in a traditional sense), and more about the imagery, the drama and the scenarios which characters find themselves in. Scenes transition awkwardly, musical numbers come out of nowhere and for whatever reason a giant bird keeps appearing left right and centre. However, despite its disjointedness, you can't help but get sucked in by Hotel For Criminals' engrossing oddness, which is encapsulated by Stanley Silverman and Richard Foreman's complex and dissonant tunes.

Director Patrick Kennedy's production of this American cult classic really a spectacle to behold. Fans of the traditional musical may be left scratching their heads at this dadaesque fever dream, but for those who are seeking something new and obscure Hotel For Criminals is an experience like no other.

Hotel For Criminals runs at the New Wimbledon Studio until the 29th October. Buy tickets here.