I’m sure that the Tripadvisor review of Simon Clark’s Hotel Midnight would comment on the battered table and the kindly concierge that welcome you upon your arrival. But beyond its doors a few surprises are offered up.
Clark is an established horror writer with a library of stories to his name as well as penning the authorised sequel to Day of the Triffids. There’s a perhaps inherent problem with literary adaptations on stage in that the dialogue, in the main, comes from the characters. Here the visceral language of Clark’s writing has been lost, but instead is replaced by the very tangible emotions of the actors. I can imagine watching the play feeling like an out-of-body experience for Simon Clark, but it’s a package in more than capable hands.
The first of three tales, ’Swallowing a Dirty Seed’, is a gruesome tale of bodily mutilation. Two lost campers (Solaya Sang and Amir Rahimzadeh) happen upon the hospitable Stephen (Andrew Marsden). But the two campers have eaten the fruit lurking in a nearby orchard with sickening consequences. A strong start, Marsden’s confusion and horror are well-pitched with Sang’s acceptance of her fate being a genuinely upsetting moment.
‘They Will Not Rest’ is a bizarrely compelling tale of a ‘flood’ of coffins that have sent the world to sleep. Everyone that is except, John (Taran Knight), Penelope (Solaya Sang) and Letty (Carmen Dooley). Taran Knight’s exceptional performance is an absolute highlight. Confident and measured, his cold steely character is creepier than the source material at times. Carmen Dooley’s wide-eyed innocence also helps to sell the wonderfully barmy, but incredible imagery of flying coffins creating an invasion force. Amir Rahimzadeh’s entertaining, if too brief, appearance also achieves him the rare distinction of being bumped off twice in the same evening. The most convincing of the three stories, it is an electric combination devised by director Richard Patterson.
‘Humpty’s Bones’is the third and final story. Adapted from a novella, and with a longer running time to compensate, it sees Eden (Laura Plows) visiting her Aunt (Tracy Gabbitas) who is currently entrenched in the recovery of an ancient Roman skeleton. Set in a creepy English village, Terry Naylor’s Hezzle sets the scene nicely with his grouchily portentous warnings.
Despite a strong central performance from Laura Plows, Humpty’s Bones is only partially successful. The central and suitably chilling story of the disturbing of an ancient burial site unfolds at a natural and intriguing pace thanks to Sean Mason’s direction. Sean Croke is especially noteworthy as the bullish and monstrous Curtis. However, the parent/child conflict that arises from Eden and Heather’s digging into this world feels as old as Humpty’s bones itself. Humpty’s Bones is also capable of sustaining a performance of its own length and whilst it seems churlish to criticise Hotel Midnight as a whole for delivering on value, sometimes less is more.
Clark is a writer that can craft atmosphere in spades. The stage seems to be a natural fit for him, with Lass Productions, Yer Maun Productions and Scytheplays utilising the intimate space of the Salmon Rooms with bumps, atmospheric sound effects, screams and faulty lights all being used to great effect without being too overwhelming, or feeling cheap. Sean Mason’s cleverly crafted bridging narration as Nathaniel, the concierge at the hotel, also retains an overarching storyline of its own allowing this to be more than just a random collection of stories.
One can only hope that it isn’t too long before we can check into Hotel Midnight again.
The Fiction Stroker gives Hotel Midnight four strokes out of five:
You can check into Hotel Midnight until 31 October at The Lass O’Gowrie as part of the Greater Manchester Horror Fringe.