Director Patrick Kennedy has been working consistently with American composer Stanley Silverman to bring the weird and wonderful world of Silverman and writer Richard Foreman's theatrical works to the UK. Hotel for Criminals is no exception.
As Kennedy notes, this is by no means a traditional musical. The loose story of a journalist investigating a French criminal known as Fantomas is told abstractly through short scenes, a deadpan script and art songs that (whether individually or together) make little to no sense. A voiceover attempts to provide some structure, whilst an alarm rings in each scene change, but it's not enough to really allow the audience to grasp the narrative.
Yet this also serves to unsettle and unnerve the audience, the varying scenes quietly humorous in their absurdity. The production is stylistically brave, with actors moving robotically around the stage and delivering their lines through masks and heavy make-up like possessed puppets. It's a mix of Tim Burton meets 20th century expressionism: frightening, humorous and fascinatingly weird.
Silverman's score follows suit, with rich vocal harmonies and elegant melodies dappled amongst chromatic recitative and horror film discordance. There are influences of Debussy, operetta and American show tunes that together create a distinctive sound world with a disjointedness befitting the fractured narrative.
These tunes are sung wonderfully by a talented cast with fixed, almost cartoonish, expressions. Alistair Frederick offers a piercing tenor as Max; Madelaine Jennings's soprano is well-suited to the innocent Helene; and Kate Baxter is terrifying as the vampiric Irma Vep.
Hotel for Criminals is frustratingly obtuse, but there's a macabre allure in its phantasmagorical atmosphere.
Watch: Hotel for Criminals runs at the New Wimbledon Studio until 29th October.