Room 29 @ King's Theatre, Edinburgh, 24 Aug
Jarvis Cocker and Chilly Gonzales regale with stories of room 29 at the Chateau Marmont tonight as part of the Edinburgh International Festival
"Help yourself to pretzels..." murmurs Jarvis Cocker, coquettishly, as only Jarvis Cocker can. He's reclining on a king-size bed, stage left, opposite Canadian musician Chilly Gonzales, who’s perched in front of a shiny baby grand piano. They’re sipping drinks – a gin and tonic and a virgin piña colada, respectively. The King’s Theatre has become a hotel room – room 29 at the Chateau Marmont, to be precise. The legendary Hollywood institution is said to have hosted all the Golden Age greats, and rumour has it that a few ghosts never checked out.
During a recent stay of his own, Cocker wondered what secrets those walls, and that piano, could tell. As a result, the show is part cabaret and part history lesson, told through film, archive material, song, dance and the Pulp frontman's inimitable narration. It’s a rumination on fame, and how ugly it looks in the morning. Our hosts emphasise that there's a fine line between real life and the fantasy that's mediated by screens for public consumption, and offer us an informative powerpoint presentation, detailing their personal pros and cons of hotel life. This blend of the historical and personal feels slightly melancholy. As we’re introduced to the gorgeous, shady celebrity inhabitants of the hotel, we sneak a peep at Cocker’s own fascination (and dissatisfaction) with celebrity.
The duo's album – also titled Room 29 – was released in March, and it’s a charismatic combination of tabloid goss and tragi-comedy. Gonzales’ cinematic score is rich and dignified, and a moving foil to Cocker’s one-liners: “Is there anything sadder than a hotel room that hasn’t been fucked in?” he asks, faux-innocent, whilst humping the leg of the bed. Still, for all its inventiveness and charm, Room 29 could have benefitted from some dramaturgical overview. The “unexpected events” are considerably slicker than the ad-libbed links, and the pinnacle of the show – a stunning dance performed by Maya Orchin – is stifled by strobe lights so blinding that the audience are forced to hide behind their hands.
It’s thrilling to share an intimate evening with pop royalty, and Cocker must merely lift an eyebrow to receive adoring applause. Still, Room 29 feels out of reach – possibly because us common folk will never fully understand those pressures of fame and fantasy. Gonzales offers the audience the chance to order “Anything! Anything at all!” from room service: “Talcum powder!” bellows a chap in the stalls.