Walking directly past the Great Hall is a surreal experience as you walk towards Lancaster University’s Nuffield Theatre. For such a relatively small theatre, it has a capacity of around 200; the stage is uncommonly large creating a magnificent combination of intriguing intimacy and surprising scale. Although not promoted by the university in the way it should be the theatre is graced by up to visiting professional shows a year, offering students a choice of comedy, music and dance right on campus.
Last weekend it was Lost in Translation’s latest circus/theatre production Hotel Paradiso that descended on campus. The production featured a cast of 6, combining both circus and theatrical elements to create a show directly targeted towards families. While there was enough for both adults and children to enjoy, the show itself suffered from a convoluted identity crisis. By trying to entertain through both acrobatics and more traditional drama, they faced the audience with unconvincing theatrical elements which felt seemingly out of place with the dazzling acrobatics.
Among the cast of 6, there were significant differences in acrobatic ability which made the show feel less than seamless. Although, overall, the level of a capability evidenced throughout the show was more than satisfactory, with the show managing to cram in a tremendous variety of different acts into the relatively short 60-minute run time. While there was plenty of juggling and equilibristics, they could have drawn upon plenty of unexplored acts relatively easily.
The incorporation of tightrope walking or plate spinning could have undoubtedly amplified the drama. Instead, the production relied heavily aerial upon acrobatics to captivate the audiences. Thankfully, the grand reveal of extra apparatus helped to relieve some of the fatigue that resulted from the overexposure. Throughout the show, there was also ample use of acrobalance, but its implementation was utterly unconvincing.
The success of contemporary circus is partly attributable to the ability of productions to convey a story or theme through an intricate focus on character development, intriguing staging or even just the overall aesthetic impact. The idea of a crumbling hotel didn’t leave much for the cast to play with, and they weren’t helped by the very minimalistic set, which while practical is the polar opposite of awe-inspiring.
There’s no doubt that the cast is immensely talented, but ultimately their skills are put to waste. Further implementation of physical comedy or slapstick could relatively quickly make the production flow exponentially more seamlessly and make the different circus element feel like they follow a more smooth, coherent narrative.
The shows at the Nuffield were for the first outing for Hotel Paradiso, and hopefully, throughout its run, it’ll grow and develop into the absorbing show it has the potential to be. Currently, it’s arguably too short to establish sufficient characterisation or follow an enthralling narrative that serves to heighten to the dramatic impact of the circus elements. While it’s not the best production to grace the Nuffield in recent years, it’s also far from the worst.