August 14, 2021
We’ve all been greeted by those consummate, ever-smiling professionals behind the hotel reception desk; and the higher graded the establishment, the more perfect it always looks. In The Receptionists, Inga Björn and Kristiina Tammisalo of Finland’s Kallo Collective take that familiar situation and turn it into an hour of acutely observed physical comedy.
A ping on the counter bell sees them pop up like jack-in-the-boxes, smiles already firmly in place. They file paperwork, arrange a fruit bowl, tidy the desk. They get bored. It’s simple and mundane, but immediately the pair have you in the palm of their hands. The action is incredibly detailed. Every look, every facial contortion, every raised eyebrow says so much.
What follows is a loosely knit series of scenes that emphasise the absurd. The pair have great chemistry and quite superb timing. Fingers drummed in boredom turns into an orchestrated duet. When the telephone dares to ring, they bicker over who should answer it, both equally excited but horrified that they might actually have to deal with someone. A cancellation and a missing scarf are both seen as monumental disasters. It is all quite ridiculous, but the trick is that it is all so recognisable.
The Receptionists is very much at its best when both Björn and Tammisalo are on stage and work off each other, however. A section that sees one take a lift to housekeeping where she delves into the intricacies of towel swans, neatly folding laundry and the absurdity of the pointed fold in the toilet paper (a worldwide practice but why?) before dancing with a dressing gown, works less well. It does pick up again when three members of the audience are persuaded to check-in, though.
It is all terribly inventive and, live, I suspect hilarious. Bjorn and Tammisalo are very good indeed. Their physical dexterity and timing are a joy. But, watching online, while I found it delightfully silly and smiled a lot, what I didn’t do was laugh out loud. Perhaps like comedy and clowning generally it just needs to be watched live and in the company of others. Good fun, nonetheless.
Part of the From Start to Finnish showcase, The Receptionists by Kallo Collective is available on Summerhall Online to August 29, 2021. Visit www.summerhall.co.uk for details and tickets.