Imagine winning on the Premium Bonds and living your life in splendour at a top fashionable hotel and then some 50 years later your whole life crumbles as developers move in and want you out from what has become your home in the Pavilion Suite of the once majestic Winter Gardens Hotel. Now it is in disrepair and Northern Leisure Holdings have recently purchased the building and want Maggie Morgan out. Her plight makes the headline news of the local Gazette and we learn of how one of the hotels once most loved residents, has now become an irritation to the developers and, unable to settle yet another bill, after living on credit for years, she is finally evicted and work on revamping the building can begin.
Put together by Dreamthinkspeak’s artistic director, Tristan Sharps, Absent is an imaginative and creative concept as you take a nostalgic journey through the corridors, rooms and once grand ballroom of the Winter Gardens, many parts of which are unseen by the general public, as it is transformed into a modern budget based hotel. With the use of historic film, intricate sets and illusions you get a glimpse of the life Maggie Morgan led. Stepping into one of the modern windowless bedrooms it almost feels as though Maggie is there with you, confused at the changes, the new contemporary style, maybe she is. Along corridors to other renovated areas the past slips away as the present and future of the hotel is presented. We see film of Maggie as a young 18 year old, living the dream, popular and making full use of the hotels bars and ballrooms to her sad decline as the years take hold and as her friends disappear, she becomes a sad drunken soul. Her presence is there with you all along the tour as you enter the rooms she once occupied, you can imagine her lifestyle as you are invited to relax in the once luxurious lounge area. Continuing through to the Tea Rooms still elegantly laid out, to the bar and finally into the Grand Ballroom where you can almost hear the band, see the dancers, catch a whiff of the scent as the melancholy atmosphere takes hold amongst the now deserted tables.
The whole tour is surreal, from the moment you arrive and are greeted by the hotel manager and invited to check in at reception, relax in the bar and read the local paper before being led over to where the renovations have started. The haunting music, the appearances of Maggie, the old, the new, the grandeur, the basic, all combine to make this tour memorable and I can only say, make that reservation and you are guaranteed a unique hotel/theatrical experience which is heavily reliant upon your own interpretation. Bearing in mind you are left to take the tour yourselves and have no interaction from the staff situated in the rooms (who wear dead-pan expressions at all times) the entrance fee is maybe a little steep for such a short journey (approx 1 hour stretching it out) with only a two minute appearance from one actor.