“Good evening, Mr Gill,” says the top-hatted commissionaire as we approach, “welcome back to The Grand Eagle Hotel.” My wife raises an eyebrow. Honestly, I’ve never been here before - but then, neither has The Grand Eagle Hotel, which is a sort of pop-up performance space in an old mansion house, taken over for the month by the Secret Cinema organisation for the first of their Secret Music events.
The location has been set-dressed and peopled to evoke the subfusc, faded grandeur of a Twenties hotel, its clientele asked to dress accordingly and mingle amongst the staff as they fuss about us.
In the Drawing Room, visitors draw self-portraits for incorporation in a larger montage. A troubadour sings quietly in the Chapel. A mad waif-girl spins creepily around the corridors, before engaging in steamy erotic psychodrama with one of the bellhops in a bedroom. A small, dilapidated cinema screens a scratchy print of Renoir’s La Bête Humaine. Outside, across the croquet lawn, flowers decorate the tombstone of Rainer Maria Rilke. A receptionist hands me a message on hotel notepaper, saying she was asked to forward it to me. It reads (in the voice of, I imagine, Fenella Fielding), “My love - In just two weeks I will leave for Cambridge and I must see you before then. Three years is a long time to wait for you. I love you.” For the second time tonight, my wife raises an eyebrow.
It’s all thoroughly engaging and magical, a marvellous evening’s fun for which the climax is provided in the adjoining ballroom by Laura Marling, sylph-like and glowing translucently in a clingy floor-length white dress slit dramatically up the side, looking for all the world like the troubadour version of Veronica Lake.
The opening sequence from the wonderful Once I Was An Eagle is performed with accompanying double bass, cello and second guitar; but thereafter she holds the assembled quasi-toffs and fake flappers rapt with a Cohen-esque calm and control as she spins her delicate but impassioned webs of emotional autopsy, embellished solely with deft, subtle guitar work.
Highlights include the punchy “Master Hunter” and yearning “Once” - and when she reaches the line in the latter about “When I think about the land I left behind”, you can’t help thinking that, perhaps, it’ll be nights like this that she remembers. A wonderful, involved and involving experience.