There is much that is thrilling about Enda Walsh’s collaboration with composer Donnacha Dennehy, not least the violent, quivering live score from Crash Ensemble which comes off like Steve Reich expropriating a Hitchcock soundtrack and amping up all the delirium, but not before installing an escape-valve of wind instrumentation into the manic strings and keys.
In fact, that idea of a sonic escape-valve is quite resonant. Walsh’s drama centres on a young woman (Claudia Boyle) who enlists an English couple (Robin Adams, Katherine Manley) to help her kill herself in a garish Irish hotel.
As they set about their grisly project, Mikel Murfi’s hotel porter mooches around like a low-grade, bogman Beelzebub. Is he observing the hotel guest’s torment? Or exacerbating it with his bad mashed potato, treacherous booze, hideous karaoke, and god awful disco?
Inevitably, Walsh deflates opera’s grandeur. Here the passions remain high but the characters’ fixations are maudlin in their banality and maudlin too for the similarity they bear to our own lives.
The women see themselves as mere objects to be validated or not by the attentions of others, while baritone Adams booms about the delights of buffets and house extensions. All are victims of a consumerist, status-driven purgatory, which again we recognise as our own.
With everything at its bleakest, Walsh’s most wry feat is to elevate the banal chitchat of everyday life – that things aren’t so bad, that things will change, that death is not the answer – into a redemptive duet between Boyle and Manley, before then promptly gutting these hopes during the hotel’s horror-show disco at which these desolate specimens give up all pretence and collapse beneath their own misery.
Despite the show’s numerous strengths, however, it never quite adds up to the sum of its parts. Throughout, there are moments when the pace flags and the finale too is a bit of a letdown, more esoteric than it needs to be. But there’s no denying that The Last Hotel makes for a pleasantly unpleasant stay.