The Play’s The Thing – the Love In between Hotels and Theatre
Last night I went to Raffles again. I didn’t dream it, and thanks to the delayed Hong Kong – Singapore Travel Bubble I wasn’t actually there either, instead, I watched an interactive play set and filmed at the hotel by Singaporean theatre companies, Double Confirm Productions and Sight Lines Entertainment.
The Curious Case of the Missing Peranakan Treasure, conceived, directed by and featuring Hossan Leong of Double Confirm and written by Jean Tay, was filmed entirely on location at Raffles with 360 degree virtual reality cameras. So I was able to virtually enter the familiar white façade, “check in” in the lobby and revisit the hotel’s bars, suites and courtyards while watching a mystery enfold through a cast of front of house staff and guest characters.
Leong who has previously filmed one man performances at the Grand Hyatt and W hotels in Singapore says: “From 2020 there was not a lot of work for us in the arts so I decided not to sit around but to create something for actors and crew. I have always wanted to create a production with the beautiful Raffles as a backdrop and they were very supportive of my idea of having a ‘whodunnit’ set in the hotel.“
Up until June 30th you can watch this entertaining tale online and attempt to solve the mystery yourself – there’s the prize of a real life stay at Raffles in the offing. Those lucky enough to be in Singapore can book a Daycation or Staycation package, watching the play on a tablet in their suite and then explore the hotel for clues (as well as being treated to Singapore Slings and satays). Alternatively, Virtual Play allows guests to buy a ticket from ticket agency SISTIC and watch from anywhere in the world.
“Raffles Singapore always had a connection with literary luminaries in our storied heritage with playwrights and authors being very much a part of who we are,” says managing director Christian Westbeld. Suites named after the likes of Noel Coward and Somerset Maugham attest to this and the former suite appears in the production. The hotel did have its own theatre, Jubilee Hall which opened in 1991, although this was transformed into a ballroom in the most recent refurbishment. Westbeld adds: “The virtual interactive play arose out of a business need to pivot, given the current pandemic.”
Also in Singapore at Hotel Soloha in Chinatown surreal comedy meets murder mystery, The Bride Always Knocks Twice, was also born out of a need to adapt in the current climate. “Arts and tourism were some of the key industries impacted by the pandemic and this project really shows how creativity and cross-industry collaboration can lead to new possibilities,” says Kuo Jian Hong, artistic director of The Theatre Practice, behind the production which streamed in the first week of June.
The fourth floor of the hotel, set in a converted row of shophouses, stood in as the mysterious house in The Bride Always Knocks Twice where seven women from different eras of Singaporean history co exist. Reflective of the Lion City the women variously spoke Mandarin, Indonesian, English, Cantonese and Malay with the multimedia platform allowing for sub titles in Chinese and English.
Split over several nights, viewers watched the first act of the play then had the chance to interrogate the characters by submitting online questions which they answered live to camera. Originally it was intended that the audiences visit the hotel to hunt for clues in act three though due to the heightened measures this had to be changed into a virtual crime-scene investigation. In the final act the murderer was revealed but not before viewers had an opportunity to submit their theories with a chance to win a stay at Hotel Soloha.
One of the first and still existing theatre and hotel synergies was The Savoy in London. The Savoy theatre actually opened before the legendary hotel which it sits adjacent to. Impressario Richard D’Oyly Carte opened the then state of the art venue in 1881 to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. With the success of the comic operas he segued into hotels eight years later. Famous theatrical actors of the day flocked to stay at The Savoy including Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry.
While the venue is now owned by The Ambassador Theatre Group which operates several playhouses in London’s West End, there are regularly accommodation or F&B packages in conjunction with the hotel. A themed afternoon tea is currently being planned in homage to the just opened Pretty Woman The Musical, and starring actors often stay at the hotel.
Grand Hotel Timeo in Sicily also has a theatre adjacent, there’s even a secret entrance from the hotel into Teatro Antico. The well preserved amphitheatre was built by the Greeks in the third century for dramatic and musical performances, adapted by the Romans for gladiator games and now once again is used to stage the performing arts.
Other hotels are embracing opera and ballet as part of their guest offerings. In St Petersburg, Grand Hotel Europe patrons have access to the hotel’s private box at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. And in Milan, Hotel Principe di Savoia will arrange private guided tours of La Scala including behind the scenes access to backstage areas.
Before the pandemic Shangri La The Shard in London held Theatre in the Clouds, partnering with private theatre concept Revels in Hand to stage three actor plays for a small number of guests in one of its suites. Whether this returns remains to be seen but other hotel projects look to continue whatever twist happens next for the arts and hospitality industries.
“We believe that arts and hospitality is the perfect marriage and with technology, we are able to not only entertain in-house guests but have international reach,” says Derrick Chew, artistic director of Sight Lines who adds the company is looking to collaborate with more hotels following its successful collaboration with Raffles. And Kuo does not rule out The Theatre Practice staging another hotel play saying: “Our works have never been constrained by genre or format, much less specific locations so never say never.”