Singapore hotels pivot to the arts to stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, taking their cue from an established tradition
- Interactive plays filmed and set in Raffles and Hotel Soloha, Singapore, are examples of how different industries can lean on each other during the pandemic
- In St Petersburg, Grand Hotel Europe patrons can access a private box at a theatre. In Sicily’s Grand Hotel Timeo, a secret entrance leads into an amphitheatre
I returned to Raffles last night. It wasn’t a dream, nor was I actually there – fat chance of that in these times of ever-deflating travel bubbles! Instead, I watched an interactive play filmed and set in the Singaporean hotel.
“From 2020, there was not a lot of work for us in the arts so I decided not to sit around but to create something for actors and crew,” says Hossan Leong, of Double Confirm, who conceived and directed (and features in) the play.
“I have always wanted to create a production with the beautiful Raffles as a backdrop, and they were very supportive of my idea of having a ‘whodunit’ set in the hotel,” says Leong, who has filmed one-man performances at the Grand Hyatt and W hotels in Singapore.
“The virtual interactive play arose out of a business need to pivot, given the current pandemic,” says Raffles Hotel Singapore managing director Christian Westbeld.
“Raffles Singapore always had a connection with literary luminaries in our storied heritage with playwrights and authors being very much a part of who we are,” says Westbeld. Suites named after Noel Coward (which is used for scenes in the production) and Somerset Maugham attest to this. The hotel used to have its own theatre, Jubilee Hall, which opened in 1991. But that was transformed into a ballroom in the most recent refurbishment.
The Bride Always Knocks Twice – a murder mystery spiced with surreal comedy – was also born out of a need to adapt, and was staged at another Singaporean hotel, The Soloha, in Chinatown.
“Arts and tourism were some of the key industries impacted by the pandemic, and this project really shows how creativity and cross-industry collaboration can lead to new possibilities,” says artistic director Kuo Jian Hong.
The original plan was for the viewers to visit the hotel to hunt for clues in act three, but increased coronavirus prevention measures meant the production became an all-virtual crime-scene investigation. The murderer was revealed in the final act, but not before viewers had had an opportunity to voice their theories. A stay at Hotel Soloha was offered as a prize for the virtual sleuths.
Tie-ins between theatres and hotels are not new – one of the first being that of The Savoy and the adjacent Savoy Theatre, in London. In 1881, impresario Richard D’Oyly Carte opened the then-state-of-the-art venue to stage the works of Gilbert and Sullivan. Buoyed by the success of the comic operas, he turned his eye to hotels and opened The Savoy eight years later. Theatrical stars of the day, such as Sarah Bernhardt and Lillie Langtry, all flocked to stay there.
The venue is now owned by the Ambassador Theatre Group (which operates several playhouses in London) but accommodation or food and beverage packages with the hotel are regularly offered. A themed afternoon tea, for example, will be available to coincide with the West End debut of Pretty Woman: The Musical.
The Grand Hotel Timeo in Sicily, Italy, also has an adjacent theatre – the Teatro Antico di Taormina. There’s even a secret entrance from the hotel into the well-preserved amphitheatre, which was built by the Greeks in the third century for dramas and music, adapted by the Romans for gladiator games and is now once again the preserve of the performing arts.
Elsewhere, hotels are making opera and ballet part of their guest offerings. In St Petersburg, in Russia, Grand Hotel Europe patrons can access the hotel’s private box at the Mikhailovsky Theatre. In Milan, in Italy, Hotel Principe di Savoia guests can take part in private guided tours of the La Scala opera house.
Before the pandemic, under the name Theatre in the Clouds, three-actor plays were staged in one of the suites at Shangri-La The Shard, in London. Whether the Theatre in the Clouds returns post-Covid-19 remains to be seen, but at least the Singaporean marriage between arts and hospitality appears to have a healthy future.
Derrick Chew, the artistic director of Sight Lines, says the company is looking to collaborate with other hotels following its successful run with Raffles. “With technology, we are able to not only entertain in-house guests but have international reach.”
Kuo does not rule out his company, The Theatre Practice, staging another hotel play, either. “Our works have never been constrained by genre or format, much less specific locations – so never say never.”