Fringe Theatre

The Grand Old Opera House Hotel, Traverse Theatre


With their rich, upstairs-downstairs symbolism, rolling cast of characters and near-endless supply of beds either freshly made or tellingly crumpled, hotels settings are great vehicles for writers of drama.

But every vehicle needs an engine – and opera, with its ability to catapult audiences to the emotional top notes, is about as close to a fuel-injectedV8 as you can come. Bravo, then, to playwright Isobel McArthur for having the brio to combine the two in this barn-storming production, a co-production with Dundee Rep and here making its World Premiere.

McArthur, whose spiky Jane Austen remix Pride And Prejudice (Sort Of) has gone on to huge West End success, is reunited here with that show’s musical director, Michael John McCarthy, and deploys an ensemble cast whose comic chops are matched by their singing voices.

We’re in the Scomodo Hotel, where confused and harassed new employee Aaron (Ali Watt) arrives to be met by an officious, clipboard-wielding manager – and, as he trawls the corridors looking for the room he should be in, to have an encounter with a noisy, terrifying apparition with something covering its ears.


A ghost? There is one in the hotel, apparently. It would explain the flickering lights. The Scomodo used to be an opera house, you see, but there was a fire and there were deaths. A sad story of two tragic lovers.

In fact Aaron’s ghost is headphone-wearing, opera-loving, aria-bellowing Amy (Karen Fishwick), another worker at the hotel. Later the pair bond through a door neither can open – a cute piece of staging from set designer Ana Inés Jabares-Pita – and as sleeplessness plagues him, Aaron wonders if the woman he’s falling in love with is real or imagined.

There are twists and turns, serial misunderstandings, comic interludes (a scene involving a menstrual cup has the woman in front of me howling with laughter) and pauses for McArthur to takes potshots at everything from management speak to the prevalence of social media. For the final third, the music takes over as we approach the dramatic crescendo, the lines delivered over a greatest hits drawn from every famous opera you can think of (plus a few you probably can’t).

Purists may bristle at seeing their beloved musical form co-opted, but a standing ovation from an audience which included Phoebe Waller-Bridge suggests this will be one of the hits of the Fringe.