Award-winning performers transform disused warehouse into kids’ theatre experience
If you go down to the shops today, you’re sure of a ‘Grimm’ surprise. Tucked away at the back of Cityside shopping centre in north Belfast is a deceptive looking door that leads to a new ‘hotel’ — but one with a difference.
The Grimm Hotel is not just a converted 10,000 sq ft warehouse; it’s also a spookily entertaining walk-through experience designed by the award-winning children’s theatre company Cahoots.
The multi-sensory show, which officially opens on Tuesday, features magic, music, technology and some of the most recognisable characters from folklore.
When the Grimm Hotel throws open its doors, small groups of ‘guests’ will be greeted by a member of staff and guided through a dimly lit corridor to a lobby area.
They will then choose a room from a selection of 210 — the number of Grimm fairy tales published — before ‘checking in’.
A Grimm Hotel bellhop will lead them to the room of their choice, where they will be able to watch the first of three Grimm fairy tale performances.
They will then move onto the second and third performance spaces, allowing new ‘guests’ to come in.
The show involves a team of bellhops, concierges and six actors playing the roles of the fairy tale characters.
The exact fairy tales are being kept secret to add to the surprise for the younger hotel guests.
Each of the three performances will use a combination of traditional theatre, live jazz, close-up magic and high-tech illusion.
Cahoots artistic director Paul Bosco McEneaney said he had always wanted to do a show around the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales, and that when he became aware of the unused warehouse at Cityside, he came up with the idea of combining the two.
“We created a piece during lockdown last year called The University of Wonder and Imagination, and it ran online when theatres were closed,” he said.
“The whole idea of space became exciting in lockdown when we couldn’t create work in theatres. I was thinking about space a lot. We had just created a university online.
“Then, I realised there was this huge unused warehouse, so it seemed logical in my mind to build a hotel.
“For years, I’d wanted to do a show based on the Grimm Brothers’ tales.
“They’re so dark and deep and have meant different things at different times.
“I combined the concept of a hotel with the fairy tales, and the idea was that every room would have a different story that the audience could enter right into the heart of.”
Property agents Savills allowed Cahoots to take over the space in spring this year, after which designers were brought in to create the huge set.
The result is a ground-breaking theatre experience that Paul said was unlike anything that had been seen in Northern Ireland before.
Local actor Hugh Brown, who plays the chief bellhop, said there was a real buzz around the centre as curious shoppers and inquisitive children attempt to find out what’s going on behind the hotel’s front door.
“The Grimm Hotel is an incredible, dynamic, sensory experience, a fully immersive adventure of a show,” he added.
“There’s something special about the transition from the busy shopping mall into this magical world of music, visuals, illusions and wonderful performances. But it’s also very real. It feels like a proper hotel.
“There’s been a real buzz in the shopping centre since we started working on this. We’ve had children coming up and knocking the door before running away, but there’s been a lot of interest from adults too.
“We want people to react with amazement and wide-eyed wonderment. The show is for everyone, really. You just have to let yourself go.”
Philippa O’Hara, who plays a lead character in one of the three fairy tales, said the show was different to anything she had been in and that she could not wait for people to see it.
“The Grimm Hotel will blow the audience away,” she added.
“The quality of the show is so high and the set is amazing.
“It feels like a living, vibrant hotel, but one that is very atmospheric and full of illusions and surprises.”
The Grimm Hotel is part of the Belfast International Arts Festival and has been specifically designed to be Covid-safe.
It is aimed at families with children aged eight and upwards.
To book your ticket for the Grimm Hotel, visit belfastinternationalartsfestival.com. Alternatively, you can book over the phone on 028 9024 6609.