Friday, March 9, 2018


The Great War.

Devised and created by Hotel Modern- Pauline Kalker. Arlene Hoornweg, Menno Vroon and Herman Helle, Composed by Arthur Sauer and Ruud van der Pluijm. Dunstan Playhouse. Adelaide Festival Centre. Adelaide Festival March 8 – 11 2018

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Hotel Modern's The Great War. Photo: Joost van den Broek
Hotel Modern is a Dutch live-animation theatre company that create epic events in miniature and project them on to a screen with riveting reality . Working with small models, battlefield dioramas, laid out on long trestles. and video filming of the horrific conditions of the trenches and the mud and debris of the battlefield ,members of Hotel Modern bring to life in vivid, gritty and visceral diorama play the causes and consequences of a war that killed millions and changed Europe forever.
It is as fascinating to watch the artists create with absolute precision and intimate detail the gathering of the opposing nations, the battlefields and trenches, military operations on land and sea, conflagrations, prisoner of war camps, sinister submarines and a litany of corpses. Each moment and each event is accompanied by Foley artist Arthur Sauer’s electronic and acoustic composition, at times underscoring the voiceover of letters, diaries and verbatim accounts of the devastating nature of this war to end all wars. Suddenly, the cacophonous sound of battle, gunfire and explosions would shatter the silence, and the figures of dead soldiers would litter the fields. A figure with legs blown off would be begging someone to shoot him.
Hotel Modern's The Great War. Photo: Herman Helle
Throughout, Sauer has constructed a score from harsh and hard objects and surfaces, Manipulated sheets of old metal, triggered digital samplers and amplified match strikes create a battleground soundtrack of exploding shells during a booby trap or gatling gun frequency during a battle. At the edge of the stage, Menno Vroon uses cans of WD-40 as accelerants to blast jets of flame across the earth, lighting up the sky upon the large screen at the back of the stage.
The effect of this marshalled movement from one display to another, combined with the sounds from the synthesizer and the projection of the manipulated objects creates an absorbing impression of stepping into the thick sludge and mud stained with the blood of the fallen. We feel the explosions as they rock the ground and destroy the towns.
In spite of the horrendous reality of the death and devastation caused by the Great War and constructed by Hotel Modern, there is a child-like playfulness in the creation of the sounds and sights of war. Models are moved as they would be in a child’s war game with toy soldiers and artillery. There is a driving energy to an immaculately choreographed pattern of movements and manipulations. The stage is alive with action and fire as small figures and models depict the reality of war so authentically and so graphically that, although conscious of the moving figures in black, we are enthralled by an illusion that morphs into reality.
Throughout the imagery, the words of soldiers who recorded their experiences in letters, diaries and verbally provide a running commentary on suffering and the experience of trench warfare. A woman’s voice could be heard recounting the experiences. Seated in Row C, I found myself straining to hear the quiet somber voice of the narrator after the initial explanation of the Archduke’s assassination in Sarajevo and the declaration of war. Sound and image lurched me into the action of warfare. Later, members of the audience who sat further back also commented on the faintness of the delivery. A simple sound check could rectify the problem that some members of the audience commented on.
The Great War. Photo: Herman Helle

That aside, the ingenuity, originality and theatrical uniqueness of Hotel Modern’s approach to depicting and constructing an utterly absorbing realization of the nature and horror of the Great War remind us in this centenary year of the utter futility and horror of war. It is a timely plea for peace, and yet a sober reminder of the inherent inhumanity of the human race. Ironically, Hotel Modern create an impact as powerful as any film or theatre performance. For an hour, the audience sits transfixed by the skillful and uniquely inventive artistry on the stage, and reminded of the horrifying cost of all wars.