Ticketmaster Summer in Stages

Hotel Medea

Para Active (UK) and Zecora Ura (Brazil)
Trinity Buoy Wharf
(2010)

Production photo

This night hours promenade, based on the story of Jason and Medea, takes its audience on an intriguing journey intimately shared with the performers. It is strong on involvement and participation but weak on narrative information., which could be a problem if you do not already know the tale of how Jason makes use of Princess Medea and her magic to obtain the Golden Fleece, a treasure represented here by an attaché case that glows with inner light when it is opened.

In Euripides' version Jason takes Fleece and Medea away from her homeland and she bears him two children before he meets a another princess in another land, marriage with whom will gain him a kingdom. In revenge she kills the new princess with a poisoned dress and then slays her own to children to further punish Jason. Here you get the gist of the story with Jason a low-life adventurer who then aspires to political prominence.

The ancient Greeks began their theatre with the day. Hotel Medea does the opposite from midnight through to five-thirty in the morning, though this plays no obvious part in telling the story: for instance, it adds a resurrection that doesn't match the dawn, and its major purpose seems to be to mark this out as something different. What it does do, perhaps, is self-select a particular audience, one that, by making this intervention in the pattern of their lives, is prepared to invest more of itself and therefore be more tolerant and co-operative. It is easy enough to join in some ritual dancing but rather unwillingly I found myself expected to go along with being part of the blind support for a Blair-like political campaign machine.

A show that tours the world, it is obviously matched to particular locations, and in this manifestation the audience begins with a boat trip across the Thames that starts an hour before midnight. The performance site is only a ten minute walk from a bus route or the DLR, not that much longer than the trek to get to the pick up point; certainly it is more attractive but apart from giving the audience an opportunity to introduce themselves the production makes no attempt to build journey into the show. Hey! This is the story of the Argonauts!

On top of that the audience goes through a simple training in a couple of words of Portuguese, a couple of dance steps and a gesture - all things this kind of participatory audience would pick up on the moment in performance. Then lining up to get some coffee fills the hour to midnight. Such hanging around, and it is not only before the show, saps energy that you need for an all-nighter, added to which there is a tendency to stretch out individual episodes much longer than is necessary to make their point. I reckon you could easily cut the six and a half hours it lasts after boarding the boat to half that; but would the experience be the same?

No, it wouldn't. There is an uncanny manipulation going on here which has something to do with the pace and a great deal to do with the absolute immersion of the performers in what they are doing, an immersion that still leaves them acutely aware of the need to handle the audience whether with authoritarian instruction or gentle coaxing to build a similar immersion in the participants.

The night is divided into three sections, interspersed by breaks for refreshment. The first section, Zero Hour Market, which could be booked without attending the whole show, draws on Brazilian dance and ritual to show Jason winning Medea as his bride. The audience can join the dancing, observe the contest and help adorn the naked bride or groom before, in the half-light, Medea moves among them giving the kiss of death to all those who stand in Jason's way. It begins in a whirl of ribbons, threatens with leather clad, helmeted paramilitary, some of them women with one breast bare and, once it gains momentum, seems genuinely to draw in its audience.

From this mix of indigenous culture and state machine we move on to a world of media control and sound bites, plunged directly into Jason campaigning for election in his own country (unlike the myth in which Medea has killed the king and they had to flee to Corinth). It is all too like the real world of career politics and manipulation of the electorate though it seems a little perverse, in a production built on actor audience intimacy to rely so heavily on video presentation. Now, donning pyjamas the audience become Jason's children, with cuddly toys tucked in their beds and hearing an horrific bed-time story, they are gently lulled to sleep by their nurses to make them oblivious of what is going on. Meanwhile the media circus continues, Medea discovers Jason has a new woman and the story continues.

In a final section, the production finds a novel way of presenting us with Medea's revenge in cabaret style with often striking effect before a rather abrupt conclusion before the audience go in to breakfast.

Despite the political campaigning and the state security forces and one reminder from Jason that Medea is effectively a refugee, the emphasis is on a woman wronged rather than equating the ruthlessness of her and Jason's actions with any particularly modern situation with the audience sometimes being directly questioned on their own emotional lives.

There is plenty of interesting material here though some ideas, multi-videoing for instance, are overworked, and some striking performances. Medea's tattooed, pierced and often naked brother, his faced daubed with vermillion as played, I think, by Urias de Oliviera (I am guessing because the programme does not identify the casting) becomes a charismatic shaman figure who emphasises the powers of PJM's gracefully hieratic Medea, heart pierced by the arrow of love until she tears it from her bosom and turns it to revenge.

James Turpin's Jason turns from bully boy to vote chaser with a change of garment but the script gives him no opportunity to explore what brings that change but he shows the cipher of the public figure contrasted with the man in private. Though the first section is driven with more energy the cast maintain their concentration to the end and the white-dressed maids who seem largely responsible for shepherding the audience do so with skill and the subtlest of control, especially as they gently stroke the brow of their (audience) juvenile charges.

One warning, the company have got their transport information wrong. If you see Hotel Medea at a Saturday night performance and plan to go home by Underground or Overground the first does not start running until after 7am and the second is currently not operating at all on Sundays. Check out night buses or you may find yourself hanging around for an extra hour.

Friday and Saturday nights (11pm - 5.30 am) until 7th August

Reviewer: Howard Loxton