Absent belongs to that rare kind of performance that subtly, but very firmly, refuses to let you go. Though you step out of the doors and onto the streets, the atmosphere conjured in the play lingers; it discreetly impregnates itself onto the buildings, people and movements you observe on your way home. It is the pulsating innovation and sharp theatrical vision I observed in this show that keeps our theatre industry on its toes and warmly welcomes new audiences to its stalls. It is shows like this that remind me why I prefer the dynamics of the theatre rather than idly staying at home and staring at the screen of my laptop.
We make our own way through the basement of the Shoreditch Town Hall Hotel and let each of the meticulously detailed rooms tell the story of Margaret du Beaumont, a dazzling and eccentric socialite who makes of the place her permanent home. A bit too permanent, her stay witnesses her downfall from a beautiful and wealthy young woman to a broke, sour and old alcoholic who eventually gets evicted from her progressively downgraded hotel rooms. Du Beaumont’s sorry tale, inspired by the true story of the Duchess of Argyll’s life, isn’t the only subject covered by Tristan Sharps‘ refreshingly unique storytelling; he also paints a parallel portrait of the Hotel itself, and its evolution from an old building of decaying grandeur into a corporate and profit-oriented establishment, with the disregard of individual intrinsic value so characteristic of London’s tireless expansion.
“Meticulous detail”, I realise, doesn’t quite do justice to the work Sharps and his team put into creating the set. There is a profoundly rich variety of scenic elements which all play in perfect harmony with the themes and motifs of the story. I feel like an 11-year old at a theme park. Things like the exponentially shrinking room cubicles, which we have the chance to both physically walk through and admire in their miniature version; the endless mirror that refuses to give you your own reflection and the marvelously torn down ballroom conveys both Beaumont’s tragic story and the message of the growing spatial constriction in a society which pushes in all directions for mass-production and substantial returns.
Whilst appealing to my every other sense, even to my nose with aromas relevant to the rooms, the performance makes a particularly strong impression on my hearing, and this is mostly thanks to record producer Lapalux‘s hauntingly organic soundscape. It evades the temptations of cliché sounds, whilst remaining eerie and effective, making it a great example of successful and innovative sound design.
With the aid of only one actress in a brief section at the beginning of the show, Sharps expertly guides the audience through Margaret du Beaumont’s world of glamour, indulgence and decadence, whilst appealing to our sense of preservation and beauty; a true example of dedication in the performing arts. 5/5
Review written by Bryan Novelo.
Absent is currently showing at the Shoreditch Town Hall until Sunday 25th October. For more information on the production, visit here…
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