“Was it too much do you think, to poison the children?”
Hotel Medea is a collaboration between Brazilian collective Zecora Ura Theatre and London-based the Urban Dolls Project. Incorporating live performance and music, installation art, multimedia and cutting-edge technology, audience participation and interaction, this show retells the Greek myth of Medea in a unique experience lasting from midnight to dawn, making the most of its abandoned Docklands warehouse location and its multicultural ensemble to create something quite unlike anything else.
The experience is split into three main acts (Part 1 can be watched on its own, although quite why you wouldn’t want to see the rest of it I do not know). The first, Zero Hour Market, covers the journey of Jason to Medea’s homeland, somewhere vaguely in South America, to procure the infamous Golden Fleece where he also finds himself a wife. Soundtracked by DJ Dolores throughout, the swirling marketplace was brilliantly conceived, the pre-wedding rituals with chanting and dancing that we all participated in was highly atmospheric , the wedding itself was raucous fun (I got snogged by both Jason and Medea as they hunted for each other in the crowds) and as the music continued to pump and the dancing got wilder, a real communal vibe developed as people began to realise you really do have more fun, the more you throw yourself into these things.
Drylands, the second part took a more tricksy format, splitting the audience into three groups and letting us witness the same scene but from three wildly different perspectives. Now back in the West (UK?) and having started a family, Jason has now become a hugely successful politician but the strains of working life are taking their toll. So we saw Jason through the eyes of the political spin-doctors, seeing him as a potential Prime Minister, we saw first-hand how badly the work-life balance has shifted leaving Medea feeling isolated and unloved in the face of Jason’s infidelity and, in the best bit of this section, we witness the scene as passive children lying in bunkbeds around the periphery of the room. There’s no way to describe how amazing it was that the nursemaids were able to create such a calming sense of enchantment as they read us stories, stroked our heads and arms and sang us lullabies, even as the sounds of warring adults close by threatened to break the atmosphere.
And The Feast of Dawn saw the culmination of the story. Medea’s heartbreak took up shop in a lonely hearts’ cabaret bar for a slightly surreal opening, I was bewigged and lipsticked and took the name Jemima for this section, but then as the darkness descended upon Medea and her actions became evermore violent, the sense of danger was ramped up and we ended up running for safety across the docklands area, with frantic mobile phone conversations, a cuddly toy to look after, emergency supplies and a genuine sense of the unknown. The finale with the results of Medea’s final horrific acts then formed a highly atmospheric tableau, although not as emotionally engaging as one might have expected.
With hot drinks and biscuits available inbetween each act and a genuine sense of participation throughout, even if of varying degrees, there never really came a moment where I thought to myself, God I need to sleep. It really was just exhilarating and full of engaging fun that it carried you its wave of energy right up until the shared breakfast that forms the reward for making it to dawn and the tragic end.
There is no doubting how ingenious and inventive so much of this production is: the incorporation of live video filming in particular was well done and the rawness of most of the acting suited the performance well, although the final act was nowhere near as moving as it ought to have been and the final scene at the breakfast table would have been more effective if it was played before we had all sat down.
From the limited cast info available, I could ascertain that James Turpin is great as Jason, by turns physically dominating, oleaginously slick and ultimately completely broken, he is stripped bare and impresses throughout; Jorge Lopes Ramos , was remarkable as the compere-type figure of the first half, gently coaxing us to let go, the actress playing the maid was also super and unbelievably, despite my best efforts, I cannot for the life of me find the name of the woman playing Medea who was just outstanding, pulling us along her tumultuous emotional journey and finding hard truths even in the harshest of actions.
So a triumph really, engaging, innovative and intimately concerned with telling a good story, something all wannabe immersive theatrical experiences need to remember.