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The Play’s The Thing – the Love In between Hotels and Theatre

Raffles Hotel Singapore

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.“

Hossan Leong (right) with Pavan J Singh on set at Raffles Singapore

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 Theatre Practice’s Bride Always Knocks Twice


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.

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. 

La Scala, Milan

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.”

Where Last Christmas was Filmed in London

Last Christmas ice rink close up
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at Alexandra Palace ice rink Credit: UPI

Now showing on HBO, Last Christmas the movie Henry Golding’s new film co starring Emilia Clarke and Michelle Yeoh makes London look wonderful. Director Paul Feig is a huge fan of the British capital and says the film is a love letter to London. The movie was actually filmed last Christmas when all the city’s festive decorations were in place. A lot of scenes took place in the middle of the night for maximum light sparkling and minimum crowds. Here’s where you can find the most scenic locations.

Tom and Kate’s Meet Cute, Apple Market

Last Christmas meet cute
Henry Golding and Emilia Clarke at Apple Market Credit: UPI

Flakey Kate (Emilia Clarke) first spots suave Tom (Henry Golding) through the window of Yuletide Wonderful Christmas shop where she works in Covent Garden Piazza, owned by Michelle Yeoh’s character “Santa”. Alas the shop doesn’t actually exist. IRL the site is a covered walkway cutting through the neo classical buildings of the former fruit and vegetable market. On the plus side it’s flanked rather deliciously by Ladurée tea room and Godiva chocolatier. And you can visit the spot where the two meet outside Yuletide – underneath the blue metal arches in Apple Market where a certain incident involving “looking up” seemingly brings them together.

Meet Cute Part Two, Covent Garden

Last Christmas Brydge's Place
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in Brydges Place Credit: UPI

When Kate and Tom run into each other again it’s also in the Covent Garden area. Though it looks like a film set, this quaint lane is real life Cecil Court. Linking Charing Cross Road with St Martin’s Lane, the pedestrianised street is lined with independent stores selling books and artworks. “London’s narrowest alley” where Tom takes Kate as part of his magical mystery tour of London is real too. Keep a close eye out for Brydges Place next to the Coliseum theatre on St Martin’s Lane – the alley measures only 15 inches across. As for Tom’s “secret garden”, it’s The Phoenix Garden an urban retreat hidden away between Soho and Covent Garden (the entrance is on St Giles Passage).

Last Christmas secret garden
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding in The Phoenix Garden

The two part company at a bus stop on Regent Street which has just turned 200 years old – well worth a visit to see the wonderful illuminated Angels flying above the length of the thoroughfare at this time of year. Tip: the scene was not actually filmed at real bus stop as it’s opposite Hamley’s toy emporium and outside Hackett where no stop exists.

St Mary’s, Marylebone

Emilia Clarke outside St Mary's
Emilia Clarke outside St Mary’s Credit: UPI

The gorgeous honey stoned building depicting the exterior of St Benedict’s homeless shelter in Last Christmas can be found in Marylebone, north of Oxford Street. While the photogenic Georgian columns, festooned with twinkling lights, provide a backdrop for several scenes featuring Tom and Kate, the ornate interior is the setting for the Christmas concert.

The Savoy Buildings

Last Christmas Simpons on the Strand
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding outside Simpson’s in the Strand Credit: UPI

Kate’s calamitous audition takes place inside the Savoy Theatre, an Art Deco jewel tucked away next to The Savoy hotel’s main entrance on the Strand. It’s worth buying tickets to anything showing here just to see the interiors. Nearby is the spot on the river Thames where Tom gives Kate another pep talk, opposite The Savoy’s riverside entrance on the Embankment. The pair sit on the steps next to Cleopatra’s Needle, where the Thames bends at just the right angle to have the London Eye over on the South Bank appealingly illuminated in the background. Simpson’s, a restaurant owned by The Savoy, outside of which Kate and Tom sit with their skates on (see below) is back up on the Strand. There’s no bench outside Simpson’s but there is a bus stop should you wish to catch a double-decker like Kate.

Alexandra Palace

Last Christmas Alexandra Palace
Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding at Alexandra Palace ice rink Credit: UPI

While the ice rink where the couple have an illicit late night skate appears in the movie to be a short skip from the Embankment, you’ll need to visit far flung north London. Alexandra Palace is a vast Victorian era building known to locals as “Ally Pally” which houses a huge indoor ice rink among other venues. The rink is in a stunning high ceilinged space lined with French windows and it’s open all year round not just for Christmas.

Tom’s Flat, East London

Tom’s tiny, ultra neat flat is located on the corner of Brick Lane and Cheshire Street in East London. Brick Lane has long been famous for its curry houses and more recently for cafes, shops and street art. By coincidence Henry Golding actually used to live in a flat here, just around the corner from his character’s fictitious one. How’s that for a twist of fate.

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What it’s like to Sleep in the World’s Most Luxurious Bed

 

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The bed at The Savoy’s Royal Suite

[UPDATE: Savoir Beds is opening a store at the refurbished Raffles hotel in Singapore in August 2019.]

When it comes to sleeping I’m definitely in the Princess and the Pea camp, I tend to toss and turn throughout the night rarely getting a restful 8 hours. So I was intrigued to check into the Royal Suite at The Savoy, London where an exclusive handcrafted bed has been installed promising a superlative sleep.

Befitting the vast suite (it takes up the entire river side of the fifth floor) decorated in an elegant Edwardian style, the bed itself looks straight out of a fairytale. And the ornate four poster king with draped canopy has added advantages in a handmade box spring base, mattress and topper valued around SG$150,000.

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Sitting room in The Savoy’s Royal Suite

As with all the best mattresses The Savoy’s are made with horse tail between pocket springs. The one in the Royal Suite also features a hand tufted topper made by yarn specialist Tengri from rare fur – hand combed once a year from yaks roaming the Khangai mountains of Mongolia. Their hair is softer than cashmere with exceptional temperature regulating properties so perfect for aiding sleep.

It’s the creation of prestigious British brand Savoir which has been hand making beds for the hotel for over 100 years. When Richard D’Oyly Carte opened The Savoy in 1889 he set new standards for luxury hotels in London. He couldn’t find a bed maker that met his exacting criteria so Savoir was formed to create beds for The Savoy.

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The Savoy hotel London

My first impression is that the mattress is surprisingly firm. But it also has just enough flexibility and I don’t feel any points of undue pressure – it’s just right, as Goldilocks would say. I close my eyes with the intention of a 20 minute afternoon nap and I wake up over an hour later.

The true test though comes after supper in the suite’s dining room overlooking the Thames (the view that Claude Monet painted) and impeccably served by morning coated butlers. While I still wake up several times in the night as is my wont I immediately fall back to sleep each time. Even more remarkably the back pain I’d been feeling the day before had disappeared.

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Dining Room in the Royal Suite at The Savoy

Usually (and frustratingly) I’m not able to lie in, restless to get up by 7am, but here I found the opposite. The only thing that eventually tempts me out of bed is the thought of Omelette Arnold Bennett for breakfast: made with smoked haddock, hollandaise sauce and cheese, perfected for the writer while he stayed at The Savoy in 1920s. After a call to the butler I’m tucking into this moreish dish and taking in the marvellous London view. Did I feel I’d slept in a bed fit for a king or queen? A resounding yes.

https://www.thesavoylondon.com

Savoir Beds Raffles Hotel Arcade #02-08, 328 North Bridge Road, Singapore 188719

Tel : +65 6261 2788

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