Arriving into The Grand Paradise feels very much like what we have come to imagine as ideal travel: a pink hued, Pan Am-fantasia in which we are invited to leave all our troubles behind and succumb to the promise of what lies ahead. Travelers are welcomed by a staff wearing colorful shirts, that invite them to go into a waiting area where they receive the security tutorial (an oddly charming video straight out of Lost’s Dharma Initiative), after which they’re sent off to the title locale, a 1970s beach resort where they are received with leis and smiles. Luscious male and female swimmers play inside a neon water tank seemingly unaware of the guests near them, as tropical music fills the night air, for if anything this feels like a beach resort that has never been touched by sunlight.
Soon after the guests have gathered, a family of five arrives, and things begin to get exciting, as the mother is called by the chant of a Siren. After the two exchange outfits - the Siren is left in a sensible safari getup, while the mother now looks like a Studio 54 diva - we understand that we are here to fulfill our darkest fantasies. What this theatrical experience, conveyed by the brilliant minds at Third Rail Projects, gets right from the very start is that there is always an element of the forbidden when it comes to finding pleasure, and as guests are divided and allowed to take the path they choose for the next couple of hours, it becomes quite evident that absolutely no one is going to leave Paradise with the same recollections.
The concept beautifully epitomizes what has become more than clear when it comes to the arts, which is the notion that in the digital age plot has truly become irrelevant when you could offer guests an experience instead. Beyond the cheap thrills of “making your own adventure”, guests are allowed to explore their fantasies, some of them becoming voyeurs (there is a recurring theme of spying behind shades and eavesdropping), some of them becoming guides (some guests will undoubtedly try to establish conversations with the “staff”, and it’s a beauty to see where they take them).
The path followed by this reviewer was both erotic and moving, as he was shown into spaces where he was asked to wait and entertain himself - there was static on the television and nothing but vintage gay porn magazines to browse - and places that seemed out of a Cocteau dream - a sandy room filled with nothing but hourglasses. The Grand Paradise can certainly be effective for introverted and extroverted guests alike; it’s easy to guess that those who are more keen to introversion might find the experience claustrophobic, yet dreamlike at times, while those with “out there” personalities will be seduced by the idea of taking part in a celebration of pure hedonism.
Without saying much that will spoil the various spaces - and the “ghosts” that haunt them - of The Grand Paradise, what remains easier to express is that at times the experience felt very much like what it would be like to be trapped inside a lava lamp. Whether that sounds sensual or terrifying is strictly up to each guest.