First appearing on the Fringe in 2006, Imitating the Dog’s award-winning ‘Hotel Methuselah’ has been revived for a short run at the new Summerhall venue.
Despite being five years old and referencing post-war British cinema and the French new wave, ‘Hotel Methuselah’ still feels fresh and innovative. This is due in part to the unique staging, where the audience watch the action through a giant letterbox-sized gap which imitates wide-screen proportions. Within this world, we see projected film of the now-shabby hotel of the title while performers act out key scenes in front of the screen. The narrow gap means the actors are, for the most part, only visible from neck to knees, with the film showing their faces.
The central character is Harry, the night porter. Despite the shelling audible in the distance of this unspecified but war-torn European city, the Hotel Methuselah feels like a little haven. Harry enjoys the solitude and lack of demands in his work, but he is troubled As the story unfolds and scenes repeat themselves with minor variations, it becomes apparent that Harry suffers amnesia, and yet he clearly has a past. As the fabric of his current reality begins to dissolve and memories gradually intrude, so too are the audience treated to shifting and unusual perspectives.
Special mention must also go to the soundtrack here, the eerie background noises of shelling and gunfire, combined with other aural assaults less readily identifiable but equally menacing, create a mood of overwhelming dread which does much to drive this work.
‘Hotel Methuselah’ does not so much tell a story as immerse its audience in a bleak world of brief encounters and broken people. It is a fascinating, expressionist piece of theatre where every aspect conspires to disturb and unsettle.
19-26 Aug 1445 (1600) @ Summerhall