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Absent

Absent at Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Photo: JimStephenson Absent at Shoreditch Town Hall, London. Photo: JimStephenson
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Where theatre companies have increasingly colonised non-traditional spaces such as warehouses and public buildings for performance, here Brighton-based Dreamthinkspeak have playfully transformed the basement of the Victorian Shoreditch Town Hall into the seeming opposite of such revitalisation: a Premier Inn-style redevelopment of blandly identikit hotel rooms that we are invited to tour.

Of course, for a site-responsive company that once set The Cherry Orchard in an abandoned Brighton supermarket, there’s more than meets the eye to this promenade commission by Shoreditch Town Hall, Lift and Left Coast. Loosely inspired by the true story of the Duchess of Argyll, a socialite who lived in a central London hotel for years, Tristan Sharps’ production takes us down the rabbit hole, into a hotel where past and present blur surreally.

The Alice in Wonderland comparison is apposite when we find ourselves in a maze of identical rooms that get smaller and smaller – their walls covered in miniature models of the one we started in. It’s an ingenious, disorientating evocation of rampant commercialisation in a piece full of nice touches (like doctored issues of the Evening Standard) and a deftly realised atmosphere of cultural loss.

After this, though, the production loses momentum, with too much wandering and too little to discover. And while Dreamthinkspeak weave in voyeuristic multimedia with typical panache, strains of distant music and an abandoned ballroom feel overly familiar from countless ghost stories. But, still, it’s a shock to re-emerge from this forlorn world into the bustling blare of east London.

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Verdict
A haunting promenade experience, full of atmosphere and imaginative touches, let down by a loss of focus towards the end
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