Hotel Bella Luna | Ponydog Productions with Jetpack Theatre

Image by David Hooley

Do you ever stare up at the moon in hopeless wonder about the possibility of visiting the space rock one day? Your days of waiting are over because Hotel Bella Luna is a fully functioning hotel resort with a whole host of activities for relaxation and extreme adventuring, whichever strikes your fancy. Unfortunately, on this visit, new guests will have to work together with staff to save the hotel from a system malfunction that will result in mass death!

Hotel Bella Luna is an intergalactic and interactive theatre adventure. During orientation for the new hotel guests, an explosion causes the hotel’s AI control Bella to malfunction, leaving just one hour for the staff and guests to complete a series of challenges to restore power to the main computer core. While the staff appreciate the assistance of gung ho guests, the most important thing is that everyone is comfortable during their stay so opt-out badges are available. Together the cast leads the audience through three different rooms with activities tantamount to saving the hotel and everyone’s lives.

The structure of Hotel Bella Luna’s destruction was devised by the company, who alternate roles throughout the run, but each performance is unique with improvisation and adaptations for audience engagement. Direction from Davey Seagle seems to leave a lot up for play and flexibility in the moment which can lay the success of a performance at the feet of the audience. With the particular hardships of COVID-19 and restrictions to audience size, this format makes the production vulnerable to either a particularly small audience or a particularly disengaged one, adding additional challenges for the actors to keep the narrative afloat.

Lucy (Chloe Lethlean Higson) and Chaz (Nathan Porteus or Matthew Abotomey) are the bellhops and the first port of call for new guests. Lucy is technically the hotel’s heiress but in the meantime she’s happy welcoming guests and spruiking the hotel’s many amenities. Chaz is in charge of the hotel’s activities calendar with extreme sports, like reverse bungee jumping, at the top of the priorities list. The only other people left behind after the explosion are long-term guest Rayleen (Amy Victoria Brooks) and the robot head of relaxation Hermann (Lachlan Ruffy). Higson and Porteus were a delightfully mismatched pairing that endeared their characters quickly to the audience while Ruffy stood out as an audience favourite for his consistency of character as a feelingless yet perceptive robot. Brooks also deftly handled audience interaction and came into her own as a character when things came down to the wire in the last 15 minutes.

Set design by Siobhan Jett O’Hanlon accurately represents the calmed chaos of an improvised interactive adventure play. Bella’s main control panel sits centre-stage combining plastic balls and silver spray paint for a homemade-Halloween-costume quality. But the part-mod, part-psychedelic floor paint and yellow bike tyre portholes pleasantly land the set somewhere between Playschool and a hipster cafe. The atmosphere of Hotel Bella Luna is very playful and leans heavily into the idea of theatre as escapism. And while the premise of our demise on the barren surface of the moon is bleak, every approach to the problem is a silly one and the nature of improvisation means the majority of the show’s hilarity comes from mishaps, misunderstandings, and mistakes made by the actors in their own narrative.

Hotel Bella Luna is an ambitious storytelling format and, while the outcome is largely very messy, reawakening the audience’s inner child is good fun.

Hotel Bella Luna is running at Flight Path Theatre from October 22nd – November 7th

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