Musicals at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival are a dime a dozen, and comedies are even more abundant. The rarity, however, is to find one so brimming with heart and love for its subject matter as the Grand Old Opera House Hotel. Like Anderson’s Grand Budapest on which the show is (only loosely) based, the Scomodo hotel is tired and run-down. The once-grand hallways are replaced by a soulless and corporate labyrinth through which a lone room-attendant-in-training scrambles to find room 283 for his first staff meeting. Behind this vacant exterior, though, lies a brilliantly funny comedy-opera with a colourful cast of characters and a charming emotional core.
Ali Watt’s Aaron is hilarious as the bumbling everyman, desperately trying to keep up with the hotel’s menagerie of caricatured guests and overbearing managers. Joined by Karen Fishwick’s Amy, the two strike a farcical romantic chemistry without ever meeting face to face, communicating only through scattered Walkman tapes of classic operatic numbers. This central plotline is complemented by excellent supporting performances playing a variety of characters, most notably from Annie Louise Ross who shines both as a disgruntled cigarette-smoking employee and a slighted upper-class housewife.
The sudden transition to a musical for the show’s final act would be jarring if it didn’t so gleefully refuse to take itself seriously. The operatic parodies that ensue are smartly written and brilliantly funny, with a soprano imitation of a cold shower and cacophony of upset guests joining the sweeping classical scores. The play up until this point was a carefully orchestrated setup to a joke with a twenty minute punchline, and it undoubtedly works thanks to the impressively powerful vocals and musical presence that the whole cast provides.
Given its enormous budget, impressive set design and attention to detail, there are still moments here and there which feel underdeveloped. You’ll see no complaints from me for playing the entirety of Nessun Dorma, but the accompanying onstage action never developed beyond Aaron and Amy standing up and sitting down again against a backdrop of comically clad opera singers. In a show that otherwise goes the extra mile, moments like this falter the pace somewhat. Nonetheless, the fraying walls and fizzling lights of the Grand Old Opera House Hotel are positively packed with loveable characters, soaring music and enough joyous humour to ensure a hearty laugh and a thoroughly good time for all.
The Grand Old Opera House Hotel is part of the Traverse's £1 Ticket Project.
It runs until 27th August at various times: https://www.traverse.co.uk/whats-on/event/the-grand-old-opera-house-hotel-festival-23