The Last Hotel

★★★★
international festival review | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 09 August 2015

A loveless husband and wife bring a desperate woman to The Last Hotel: a place where all things reach their logical, terrifying, conclusions – where a service industry trades death for cash to build kitchen extensions; where 'home comforts' are less soft sheets than inescapable family disfunction; where a porter serves no-one, but fetches and carries nonetheless, his increasingly feral movements a fading reminder of a job that once had purpose. There's a reading here which sees Enda Walsh and Donnacha Dennehy's operatic collaboration as the artistic flowering of Ireland's thrall to Mammon during the boom years. But the morality-tale reading implies peaceful resolution. This hotel's residents check out with none.

Walsh's text is tight and sparse, but without a hint of surrealism. "No more push to death," pleads the character referred to in the libretto only as 'Wife', derailing temporarily the narrative's terrifying internal logic. The Crash Ensemble more than match this tightness, keeping Dennehy's little units—spasms, even—of rhythm nailed to the rails. There's a moment where (with nods to the prisoner's scene in Fidelio) the wife steps out into the light of the garden. Her open, flowing lines seem designed to show that Dennehy's angular score can serve the purpose of beauty—of humanity—just as well. Rhythmic gestures fade to lethargy. Lush tonality droops laconically into equally lush microtonality. Then she re-enters, and her epiphany is blown away by a juggernaut of sound.

A slightly overwrought karaoke scene provokes the only lapse in concentration here. Its exploration of masculinity feels tacked on, and the attempt to patch in popular vocal styles is distracting. Elsewhere, cold, hard vocal styles keep this piece taught, unforgiving and compelling.