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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

The Grand Old Opera House Hotel

Traverse Theatre Company with Dundee Rep Theatre

Genre: Comedy, Drama, Farce, New Writing, Opera and Operatic Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Traverse


Low Down

A rollicking romp of a show that combines farce, romance, comedy and opera to side splitting effect, the Grand Old Opera House Hotel is set in a hotel built on the burnt out ruins of an old opera house. Gradually its corporate beigeness is challenged as two star-crossed lovers attempt to find each other in the anonymous world of corporate hospitality. Hugely entertaining comedy performed by a brilliant ensemble cast.


Isobel McArthur is on a roll, and is fast on her way to becoming a national treasure. For feel-good experience and a rollicking good night out, McArthur is your woman.

McArthur’s fabulous Pride and Prejudice* (*Sort Of), delighted audiences with its update of Pride and Prejudice as a musical told from the servants’ point of view. With the Grand Old Opera House Hotel, McArthur takes things up a notch combining farce, romance, comedy and opera in a rambunctious ride of a show that gently pokes fun at the genres with open hearted affection.

The Grand Old Opera House Hotel, now the Scomodo (‘uncomfortable’ in Italian) is a homogeneously bland modern hotel raised from the ruins of a burnt down opera house. It’s staff training day at the Grand and Aaron (Ali Watt) is the new boy on room service. Scuttling along the corridor of identical doors to find the training room, he is entranced by an operatic apparition, Amy (Karen Fishwick) from hospitality belting out opera as she hoovers. They next encounter each other and forge a bond on either side of one of the doors which is inexplicably jammed shut (as always ‘there’s a knack’). With Aaron unsure whether his loved one is merely one of the hotel phantoms and Amy convinced she has found her true love, the play follows the star-crossed lovers through hotel corridors, a tangle of operatic cassette tape and increasingly absurd customer complaints in their frustrated attempts to meet again. 

And all the while, the mundanity of life in corporate hotel world is overlaid with opera. Arias from Turandot, La Traviata, and Carmen punctuate the action. Can’t sleep? (And who hasn’t been there in a hotel room?) Nessun Dorma. Ghosts of Brunnhilde, Figaro, a toreador and Carmen appear backlit at the windows, unseen by guests absorbed by their own dramas. And then the ensemble cast takes to song, voicing their complaints and frustrations and riffing on more rhymes of ‘dilapidated’ than you thought possible.

The jokes come in rapid fire velocity, so much so that you miss the next one while you’re still laughing at the last (perhaps there’s room for a pause for breath to allow some of the jokes their space but this is likely to happen as the show beds in). The gags and cultural references flow thick and fast in a glorious pile up of high art and pop culture.

Karen Fishwick (Amy) and Ali Watt (Aaron) take centre stage with strong performances. But above all this is a strong ensemble performance with the five actors playing an amazing total of 27 characters; Christine Modestu, Ann Louise Ross, Betty Valencia, Laura Lovemore, and Barrie Hunter combine to excellent effect with fabulous virtuosity and wonderful comic timing.

Even the set feels part of the ensemble, with Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s concertina of doors allowing the actors wonderful flexibility and the perfect platform for farce. Later it opens up to reveal a mise en scène above and behind the stage level concertina doors: an all too sterile hotel room is framed in a filmic or TV like box allowing McArthur ample opportunity to play with short cuts and staged scenes – with witty film references from Psycho to Sleepless in Seattle and entertaining surtitles to the side. And brava, in the final scene the set is literally taken to another level. Ana Inés Jabares-Pita truly is the mistress of magical illusion.

The combination of MacArthur’s writing, Gareth Nicholl’s superb direction and Michael John McCarthy’s musical score combine to make the Grand Old Opera House Hotel an absolute blast. 

Finally as the flames rise ever higher, love and opera conquer all, vanquishing the beige carpets and petty concerns of the old Scomodo and allowing the Grand to rise from the ashes.