Absent: A Journey Through Blackpool’s Glorious Past . . .
Absent is a mysterious and beautifully-executed experience that invites you to book into a hotel of questionable materiality and to explore the extraordinary life of one of its most colourful residents.
As you walk through the freshly purple-painted doors of the Winter Gardens Hotel, conveniently placed on the corner of the Coronation Street entrance, you have no idea what to expect!
To fully enjoy Absent, you’ve got to be prepared to loosen your fixation on reality and really soak up the performances that begin from when you purchase your ticket to when you leave the venue.
You begin the tour by having a drink in ‘Paloma’s Bar’ as you wait to be escorted to the first set. You’re cryptically encouraged by the staff to have a flick through the newspaper.
A full newspaper has been created as a prop to inform your experience. You’re made aware that the Winter Gardens Hotel is under new management and undergoing refurbishment. One of its residents, Maggie, has finally been evicted after moving in during the late fifties following a win on the premium bonds.
There are promotional materials for ‘Northern Leisure Holdings’ throughout the bar. One of the most impressive aspects of this tour is how closely detail is observed when creating the idea of this grand redevelopment. It seems that the owners have plans to convert the building using the familiar purple decor of a contemporary, giant chain.
A uniformed hotel attendant collects you when it’s time for your tour who exchanges pleasantries as they take you to what appears to be a nondescript door . . . and then they leave you to it.
The sets are absolutely phenomenal. You explore the hotel rooms in a disorientating display that feels very much like an Alice in Wonderland rabbit warren. Scenes get both bigger and smaller, doors appear out of nowhere and every moment is punctuated by haunting ballroom music and impressive on-screen optical illusions.
Exploring Maggie’s bedroom, the lounges and tearooms, you get a sense of this enigmatic woman and her fall from grace. This is helped by scents of her favourite perfume being present in significant areas which really do give the story vitality.
There is nothing in Absent that would distress little ones, and whilst this is an attraction for everyone to attend, older children are more likely to appreciate its mystery.
Take your time as you’re allowed to head through the tour at your own pace; the charm comes from the little details as much as anything else. The final scene of the tour is a sweeping display that will leave you spellbound.
Absent is less about providing a narrative, and more about allowing you to make up your own mind about what might have happened here. Is this a story about Maggie Morgan . . . or about Blackpool? Perhaps it is a story about British society in general . . . you decide.