New Dennehy/Walsh Opera Tackles Assisted Suicide

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United KingdomUnited Kingdom Edinburgh International Festival 2015 (4) – Donnacha Dennehy & Enda Walsh, The Last Hotel: Landmark Productions and Wide Open Opera, Crash Ensemble / André de Ridder (conductor), Royal Lyceum Theatre, 10.8.2015. (SRT)

THE LAST HOTEL (c) Patrick Redmond

Woman: Claudia Boyle
Husband: Robin Adams
Wife: Katherine Manley
Caretaker: Mikel Murfi

Doubtless Fergus Linehan, the EIF’s new Director, knows composer Donnacha Dennehy and writer/director Enda Walsh from his time working in Dublin theatre, and it was an inspired idea to unite two of Ireland’s most impressive creative talents to create a new opera for Linehan’s first Festival.

The subject matter concerns an English couple who travel to Ireland to meet a woman in a rather grim hotel on the outskirts of an Irish town, and it gradually becomes apparent that they have come to help her to commit suicide.  This dark, introspective territory is right up Walsh’s street, and he treats it with originality and flashes of brilliance.  The bare, open staging is used to suggest a whole series of locations, such as the lobby, the room, the disco and, thanks to Adam Silverman’s lighting, the elevator.  

I loved the way Walsh’s dialogue helps to suggest a whole universe of things beyond the stage, though, such as the voicemail messages from the woman’s children, or the repeated touches that show that the Husband and Wife’s marriage is on the point of breakdown.  Lots of little textual touches draw the characters with often moving detail, such as the Wife’s soulful soliloquy (can we call it an aria?) as she walks alone through the hotel garden, or the Woman’s karaoke song that turns into a beautifully moving reflection on what her life has become, not to mention the husband’s comical obsession with the carvery (“I respect the buffet!”) or his kitchen extension.  

Dennehy varies his music to fit the developing drama.  It’s predominantly lyrical, particularly the writing for the voices, and his use of repeated rhythmic motifs speaks of the influence of Minimalism, though he isn’t afraid to embrace dissonance at moments of key dramatic effect.  His own Crash Ensemble throw themselves into the task of playing, and are led admirably by André de Ridder.  The only thing that could stop them was a rather embarrassing curtain cock-up towards the end.

The three singers (Mikel Murphy’s caretaker neither sings nor speaks) are dazzlingly impressive in the way they bring the parts of life, particularly Claudia Boyle, who copes brilliantly with the often cruelly high tessitura.  Robin Adams is bluff and earthy, while Katherine Manley is very moving, the most sympathetic character on the stage.

I’d be lying if I said it help me gripped throughout, though.  It’s full of fascinating ideas and exciting drama, but parts feel prolonged, particularly towards the middle.  Even though it’s only 85 minutes long, shaving some of the soliloquies would tighten and distil the drama in a way that would bring gains.  It’s definitely worth seeing, though.

Simon Thompson

The Last Hotel continues at the Royal Lyceum Theatre until Wednesday 12th August, and then tours to Dublin, London and New York.  For details, click here.

The 2015 Edinburgh International Festival runs until Monday 31st August at venues across the city.  For full details go to

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