Absent at the Winter Gardens Blackpool

A large part of Blackpool’s Winter Gardens have been turned into a hotel development in Absent, an installation from dreamthinkspeak. The premise is deceptively simple.  Local woman Maggie Morgan wins £1,000 on the pools in 1957 and moves into the Winter Gardens Hotel with enough money to stay for two months.  In 2016 the hotel is being renovated and Maggie is finally evicted from the hotel.  Throughout the installation, video recalls her childhood, her early time in the hotel and the recent past.  We are left to piece together the history of both the hotel and the person, both showing faded glory.

As one of the specially produced newspapers reports ‘she will always be associated with the Hotel’s heyday back in the care-free 1950s’.

It would be easy to miss a lot of the detail, which is where this installation is at its most powerful.  In one room a wall includes 225 identical windowless room models, one of which has Maggie sitting on a bed, very much alone.  In another, a modern room is built within the shell of the original building; under the transparent floor are key items from Maggie’s past.  Two videos play opposite each other and at one point the facial expressions of the child and the young woman exactly match.  Her perfume is ‘Chantal’, a cheap imitation, but her whisky is an expensive cask strength ‘Rosebank’.  Contradictions and uncertainty run throughout the piece.

You walk at your own pace through a succession of rooms and spaces which spread throughout the Winter Gardens.  Starting in the claustrophobic windowless modern hotel rooms, it opens out into the larger spaces of the Winter Gardens.  Structured around impressive model making, large scale installation, and a remarkable scale and depth of video, the story is layered pice by piece.  The haunting and beautiful soundscape that accompanies throughout builds tension and emotion.  As you walk, you weave together the history of Maggie Morgan, and how her life has been intertwined with the ‘hotel’.  It’s about Blackpool’s past, present and future.

Guide time is one hour, but we easily spent two hours; there’s much to observe and absorb and it’s best to truly immerse yourself in this.  This is an impressive production, and more so to see this quality of work in Blackpool; all credit to the vision of local partners LeftCoast.  Ultimately it’s about creating a powerful emotion; do we look back or do we look forwards?  Is the past better or is it gone?  What can we expect from the future, and are we doing the right things?  Very thought provoking and beautifully executed.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

One Response to “Absent at the Winter Gardens Blackpool”

  1. caroline clegg says:

    Beautifully written review Dave, thank you. it has inspired me to go when I visit my parents in Lytham.

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