Ben Russell: The Tokyo Hotel

This show begins with the sound of drums and then a dreadful storm and so gives its audience certain expectations of what is to come but, as Russell himself exclaims, “prepare yourself for the unexpected”! When he emerges through the black door that serves as his set it is not as some monster or a strange character but a seemingly ordinary, if somewhat flamboyant, man who serves as a sort of narrator for the events that take place within the hotel. I say events, for The Tokyo Hotel is not a story, as such. Rather, it consists of our guide taking us to a series of rooms and introducing us to different guests and staff members, from a piano player to a Hollywood director, writer and star, a pen and paper RPG writer to a mentalist who attempts to read the audience’s minds. The show is such that no overall narrative arc is needed; these hilarious, quirky character portraits are entertainment enough without the need to tie them all together. This is also due to the fact that Russell plays them all, changing his accent and body language with remarkable ease and fluidity – so much so that at one point he says to another imagined character that his accent started out Russian but has now become ambiguously South American, though he couldn’t say from where. Russell is not afraid to laugh at himself in character, or to admit that “this bit is going on for too long” if he gets carried away a little in his own eccentricity. He also incorporates his audience seamlessly into his sketches, from the cleaner’s commenting on a spilled beer to the mentalist asking us questions.

The Tokyo Hotel was not at all what I expected, but it was all the better for it.

Russell’s characters are absurd, silly and sometimes sad, not just thanks to his excellent changes of voice and physicality but his script. With lines like “It’s the elevator! Oh, imagination!” as a self-deprecating reference to his lack of a set, and the somewhat poignant but nevertheless hilarious musings of one of the elevator operators – “”Whether we go up or down we are still trapped in the futility of existence!” – Russell has a gift for writing scenes and sketches that have the remarkable ability to be both comic, often to the point of absurdity, and thought provoking all at once. Russell’s use of the set and incidental music compliment his characters perfectly, with the door being spun to represent whether we are inside or outside a room, and the music helping to increase the drama or hilarity of a scene, such as the scene in which Russell enacts a deteriorating relationship between his character and a pot plant.

Towards the close of the show, Russell’s narrator has become despondent, and addresses the audience, saying “I know this isn’t what you expected. It didn’t always used to be like this.” He is not wrong there; The Tokyo Hotel was not at all what I expected, but it was all the better for it.

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The Blurb

Check into the Tokyo Hotel. You are Ben Russell's guest as he guides you to your room on a tour of LA's grandest and most historically infamous hotel. Meet the hotel guests and staff through a series of masterful sketches and comedically intertwined storytelling. Fresh from a critically acclaimed run at the 2015 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Russell has spent five years performing and studying within Chicago’s The Second City. Golden Gibbo nominated, Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2015. **** (Age). **** (Herald Sun). ‘A dynamic and versatile performer, Ben Russell showcases his considerable talents’ (