Review: At The Sans Hotel – Next Stage Theatre Festival

By Sam Mooney

Nicola Gunn - At The Sans Hotel

Watching At The Sans Hotel tonight – written and performed by Nicola Gunn – reminded me of the times that I’ve decided to buy a book based on the cover blurb, started to read the book, and felt as if the person who wrote the blurb hadn’t read the book. Doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book, just felt a disconnect.

Here’s the blurb from the Next Stage Theatre Festival site – ” A psychological detective story, told with delicacy and subversive humour, about a woman in a bathtub in a hotel in a desert who plunges into the case of a mysterious, disappearing German Woman. It’s about the terror of loneliness, confusion and indecision. And a French woman called Sophie who works in a community centre.”

Don’t misunderstand me, I enjoyed the show. I just wouldn’t describe it as a detective story. I missed any reference to a woman in a bathtub and had no idea Sophie worked in a community centre. Does it matter? Only to the extent that I was distracted thinking about the blurb and the disconnect between it and the performance. The performance is pretty much non-linear and having a linear blurb doesn’t do it any favours.

The production opens with image after image of different people holding sign that say “See Me”. At some point Ms Gunn sits on a chair beside the screen. She sits very still and it takes a few minutes for the audience to realize she’s there. She slowly walks to the front of the stage and stands quietly. It seemed like minutes before she spoke, it probably wasn’t.

The character introduces herself as Sophie, a French woman. Sophie is adorable and very funny. Until she’s very cruel to someone from the audience. Elaine, my play pal, and I agreed that this was the part of the show that we didn’t like. At all. I’ve been thinking about it and wondering if the man from the audience was actually a man from the audience or was he an actor. If he was/is an actor then it was ok.

About halfway through the show Sophie disappears and is replaced by an unnamed character and the show becomes very dark, literally and metaphorically, as Nicola explores a mental breakdown.

Nicola Gunn is incredibly talented – both as an actor and as a writer. In the end it really doesn’t matter what At The Sans Hotel is about because it’s actually about the experience not the plot. Even if the psychological darkness of the second half isn’t to your taste it’s worth seeing the show for Sophie in the first half.

Details:

– At the Sans Hotel is part of the Next Stage Theatre Festival and is playing at the Factory Theatre Mainspace at the corner of Bathurst and Adelaide.
– The show runs for 75 minutes with no intermission
– Tickets are $12 to $15. There are also packages available
– Tickets can be purchased online, by phone – 416-966-1062 or 1-866-515-7799, or at the box office inside the heated McAusland Beer Tent at Factory Theatre
– At The Sans Hotel runs until January 16, 2011. Check the schedule for days and times.