Hotel Medea. A site-specific British/Brazilian production in 3 acts, taking place from midnight til dawn. Developed over three years, the project is led by PJM, artistic director of Para Active who plays the part of Medea, and Jorge Lopes, artistic director of Zecora Ura who plays the Captain (a narrator role).
At 11.25pm I am running along North Greenwich Pier in the hope that before reaching the end of this creepily deserted water-headed lane, I (and my companion for the night) find some sign of a theatrical event about to happen. Thankfully, we hear a male voice coming from a small boat docked at the end ‘Are you here for the performance?’ – ‘Yes we are!’ and speed up our running until we arrive just on time to board the vessel which takes us and 15 other adventurers to where this nightly experience will take place.
Hyped with anticipation we disembark somewhere on the other side of the Thames. Exact location? I don’t know. I don’t want to know – it is dark, it is industrial, it is deserted and it is cool. I am going to stay up all night and have no idea what is going to happen. This is cool.
Impressions Part 1: Zero Hour Market
A warehouse hall turns into a buzzing market. I find my way through a crowd of people and strips of colourful plastic hanging from huge umbrella-like constructions. I poke my head through the circles of rustling plastic strips to find out what is on offer inside. All around there is music, moving lights, shouting and people pushing – I can’t really hear or see properly. All I understand is that fake-versions of the Golden Fleece seem to be on offer everywhere. What a great first scene, the 60 audience members are let loose among the 20 or so cast. I feel free to follow my instinct and naturally become part of the scene. This is fun.
For the duration of part 1 we are the crowd of villagers and serve as the backdrop for the events that take place – the main one being the wedding of Jason and Medea. We take part in simple, ritualistic circle dance and song, performing the same actions as the chorus actors. Rituals form a defining part of the whole production – slowing down the pace and giving it a folkloristic feel. I was intrigued by the ritual of preparing the bride for her wedding. Men and women were separated and us women formed a circle around a nude Medea. We spent time chanting and dancing whilst washing, decorating and dressing her body. We were actually performing all the actions of a real ritual and invented a ritual-like environment. However, it wasn’t real. She wasn’t actually getting married. This was strange.
Part 2: Drylands
After our first coffee, tea and biscuits break at around 1.30am the actors came to pick us up. One third of the group was taken away first and the remaining two thirds were lined up in double file. One file turning right, the other left. As this part progressed I figured out the mechanics. The same scene of Jason’s betrayal was repeated three times, but each time the three groups of audience rotated between location and role. You needed the three completely contrasting perspectives to get the full picture of what was going on. My favourite part was when we became Medea’s children. Dressed in pyjamas and tucked into bunk beds by the maids I was being read a graphic novel version of the scene whilst hearing the ‘real’ version happening in the background. Then it was bedtime but I slept with one ear open – as you would when you hear something going on between ‘mummy and daddy’ at night.
Part 3: Feast of Dawn
Starting off in Club Exile for Heartbroken Women, we (the men had to wear wigs) sat around small round tables sipping gin, entertained cabaret-style with five acts on the menu. Medea, by now showing more depth in character than I had seen so far, sang her lament with a true heartbreaking blues until eventually this song (another ritual) resurrected her brother who had died in part 1. I can’t exactly remember the transition but once again we were Medea’s children. This time we rushed outside in small groups and were guided to a safe place. So there I was, 4.30am in a car wearing a checkered pyjama top, holding a teddy I named Boris. I can’t remember the names of the other 3 people’s teddies although we spent quite some time talking about it. Bringing people together through theatre is what we call this. I love it.
Whilst hiding in the car we saw it getting lighter outside and were reminded that this would soon all come to an end. After a tragic and dramatic end in the room that was Club Exile and the children’s bedroom before, we were led back to the main warehouse space where now a long table had been set up full of breakfast items. A last short scene of Medea leaving and that was it. It was morning – we had all made it to the end and celebrated this with food. The actors (apart from Medea) and audience mingled, chatted and ate. It was great. I could go on and on about this show but it won’t do the job. Go see it for yourself if you get the chance. All you lose is a night’s sleep and £28.50 – it’s worth it.
‘Hotel Medea – from midnight til dawn’ by companies Para Active & Zecora Ura, 16 July – 7 August 2010 Trinity Buoy Wharf, box office Arcola Theatre