Dublin Fringe Festival 2022: Hotel Happiness
Hotel Happiness by Chaos Factory. Image Michael-David McKernan
Disconnects. There's the good kind and the bad kind. The good kind being disconnections from self, family, the world, other people. Okay, I can see why they might not look like good things, though at times they can be. But as artistic ploys, they make for some of the best experiences. Yet when married to structural disconnects you get the bad kind of disconnect. Like in Chaos Factory's ambitious Hotel Happiness. A clever idea about people reconnecting housed in a series of disconnections. Lost? Bear with me.
The premise is simple; a woman is staying for twenty-four hours in a hotel room. Not just any hotel room, one that lets you retreat from reality, indulge in fantasy, face or escape yourself, once you do it alone. Yet Celeste is not alone. Nina's in the room and she doesn't know how she got there. Over the course of an hour both women talk about family, self, and the existential leanings of life, reaching towards a contrived sort of resolve.
Like a Disney version of Kafka, or the wilder Murakami, Hotel Happiness is steeped in a kind of nonsense. Yet where Kafka let nonsense be the dangerous thing in itself, creators Rachel Bergin, Venetia Bowe and Fionnuala Gygax try to make a kind of sense of it. Setting up an unsustainable disconnect between text and performance. Visually, Luke Casserly and Freya Gillespie's set is a hyper-realist hotel room, in which, under Casserly's loose direction, Bowe and Gygax roll about backwards, stand on chairs, and gargle gibberish in a stunningly clever sequence. If movements look contrived rather than organic, the juxtaposition still works. Bowe and Gygax draw you in, asking you to trust their visual abstractions. And you do, until they start talking. Flat tones and long tracts soon feel like heavy sermonising, given by a dull vicar in love with the sound of her own voice. A cure for insomnia that disconnects bland text from visual images. And this is not juxtaposition. Images ask "what do you think?"; text tells you what to think. Reality dominating as fantasy, which is grossly underplayed, retreats. Like the spiritual subtext that seems intentionally ignored. That these events have "all been determined" in this other worldly purgatory, with characters unsure why or how while being guided towards reconnection, speaks to a plan and a planner. Again, it doesn't connect. Yet what does connect is the chemistry between Bowe and Gygax which runs deep, infusing performances with its vital energy. You may not understand everything, but you understand their accord, which flourishes and keeps you watching.
Like many, Chaos Factory's trajectory was frustrated by COVID. They might seem to be around awhile, but they're still finding their feet. Hotel Happiness might stagger at times, but even then you know you're in the presence of a company searching for interesting ways to say interesting things. Learning to articulate and find its voice. And that's part of what the Fringe is all about after all: finding new voices.
Hotel Happiness by Chaos Factory, runs as part of Dublin Fringe Festival at Project Arts Centre until September 17.
For more information, visit Dublin Fringe Festival 2022.