The Cohort Hotel | Hawkins Youth Theatre Company

Youth theatre is one of the most genuinely exciting platforms to watch emerging talent take centre stage. In the past limited funds and lack of industry expertise often meant even the most promising works would only ever achieve a semi-polished state. In general this was, given the general enthusiasm and energy of the show, easily forgiven.

How truly satisfying then to see Hawkins Youth Theatre take the necessary steps to develop a brand new script, adapt it for a cast of over thirty and give it a fabulous start in its theatrical career.

Under Ella Becroft and Lutz Hamm’s excellent direction, Daya Czepanski’s first play, The Cohort Hotel, invites audiences to experience a world in gestation: a halfway house between Earth and the afterlife.

Young Mika (also played by Daya Czepanski) is a conflicted soul dealing with the pressures of parental expectation, life’s demands and her own self-esteem (no boyfriend, only 23 Facebook friends and no tumblr!?) when she is hit by a moving vehicle. While her body lies in a coma in hospital, the Grim Reaper – more colloquially known as Joe (Kane Wadsworth) – has decided to scoop up her soul and bring it to join the current residents at his hotel.

Mika now must make the difficult decision whether to stay for eternity (!!!) with the rest of the motley crew at The Cohort Hotel or return to earth. To do so she makes the acquaintaince of mummies, werewolves, ghosts, ghouls and zombies, each of whom proffer their own advice.

A bunch of nineteen year-old girls who are Wi-Fi-addicted and a crew of senior women waiting for their other halves to join them also give her a perspective on ‘life’ (irony abounds within this play) but the decision isn’t as easy as she thought. Unlikely forms of aid come, not just from the residents but the staff themselves, who also seem to have an opinion on her current dilemma: should she stay or should she go?

Madame Travesty (Kaleb Myall) is rather concerned about Mika’s fate, especially with an elusive clock reminding everyone that time is ticking incessantly; and although she is the wife of the Reaper himself (clearly even Death needs a strong force frocked in red and dressed in heels behind him), she and her two familiars tend to be pro-choice rather than settle for a non-existent checkout.

The Reaper is assisted by Martin (Astrid Lewis) a rather shouty skeleton butler who believes he’s a comic genius; an anonymous bell-boy (Nelson Lee), who is nevertheless successfully silent and swift when it comes to aiding his master; two zombie generals who looked like they might have walked off the set of Oz (Ruby Harris and Thom Horwood) and who offer insights on life as war; and of course wee karate master Lilly (Torie Pickering) who, like Mika, is also a real human girl and helps the troubled youth make her final decision.

With such an enormous cast The Cohort Hotel might rival Sleep No More if it ever gets an opportunity to fill the spaces of a four storey warehouse but in its present incarnation it is a very good production. Czepanski’s script is engaging and brought to life with imaginative staging and the assistance of creative costume and set design (Charlie Baptist and Elliot Jackson). Felix Becroft’s music, although quite soft at times, fulfils the role of a hotel lobby muso as he successfully sets the scene and accompanies the action on stage and Shane Richardson’s does exactly what it needs to for each moment, letting the song and dance come from the actions and the acting.

The cast are completely committed (the dance scenes are obvious examples as are the chase ones) and there are some noteworthy performances given by Wadsworth, Lewis, Mayall and Pickering. Madame Travesty’s two familiars have hardly any lines but Ruby Sexton and Hannah Jennings are fantastic cat-like familiars whose performances are laudatory.

Czepanski herself is an excellent lead (though she occasionally seems to fall into unnecessary exaggerated acting) and at various points the action seems quite laborious. It would have been wonderful to see more of the puppeteering incorporated but considering the highly sculpted world created, it’s hard not to be fully supportive of the massive effort made by cast and crew.

There are also excellent seeds within the script to be explored (including the notion of inter-species segregation and policies of admission and integration) that will still provide countless opportunities for zombie disco nights.

An excellent production overall that raises youth theatre to a whole new level.

#hawkins #youththeatre #czepanski