What is your heart’s desire? What do you dream of doing? What is the strangest thing you’ve ever done? Is your heart a stone or a feather?
From the very start, Hotel Medea (a collaboration between Brazilian company Zecora Ura and UK artist Jade Persis Maravala) asks its audience to do more than watch and listen. As we are whirled into a madcap marketplace of dancing giant umbrellas bedecked with multicoloured ribbons, with a cacophony of musical rhythms erupting from cassette machines taped to performers’ bodies, we start our shared journey – an enquiry into concerns that are at the heart of human interest: What is it to be a stranger in a strange land? How do different cultures relate: assimilate and appropriate each other’s differences, or conquer and divide? What is it to be a man, to be a woman? How far will a man go in his quest for political domination? What is it to be a woman in a man’s world, fighting for your autonomy? What lengths would a woman go to to get revenge on the man who has ditched her for a younger rival? What is the nature of love: erotic, filial, maternal, sacrificial?
All of this plays out in an exhilarating promenade performance that takes place between midnight and dawn – less a theatre show than a ritual journey of theatrical treasures that we are seduced into discovering with seamless ease; a rollercoaster of sounds, images, songs, dances, and games that takes us from the revelry of midnight sensuality and abandonment, through the soul-searching reflectiveness of the early hours, into the darkest hour of the night, and finally into the spiritual awakening of dawn. Along the way there’s a football match, a wedding, a rave, a lonely-hearts club, a deadly game of hide-and-seek, and finally a funeral – biers heaped with flowers, candles and teddies.
I’m not giving anything away when I say that the children get it: that’s the whole point with Greek tragedies; you know the outcome, you can do nothing to stop it – it is the terrible unfolding that is so thrilling. The delicious twist inHotel Medea is that we, the audience, are collectively the children: eavesdropping on the adult conversations as we are tucked into bed by our nurses, popped into pyjamas, placated with hot chocolate, soothed and stroked when the household erupts into mayhem, spirited away to avoid danger, and finally – well, you can imagine.
But then again, we are also Medea’s confidantes: the women of the harem, sipping gin (mother’s ruin!), sharing confidences on heartbreak and betrayal, witnessing Medea’s frustration and fury erupt into murderous madness.
And now we are something else altogether: the ‘focus group’ engaged in moulding the political campaign of Medea’s husband, Jason – wheeled out for photo call opportunities, or observing action from elsewhere relayed on a bank of monitors.
It all works so beautifully because of the care and attention that has gone into the placing of each character in relation to the audience: the protagonists, Medea (Persis Jade Maravala) and Jason (James Turpin), interact with us, but often at a distance – placed on a plinth, table, stage, or staircase. Urias De Oliveira plays Medea’s murdered brother, yet also represents the archetypalSinistra – a figure of foreignness, savagery, magic, a catalyst to action, a wild card, but not one in direct interaction with us. Juxtaposed with him is Medea’s nurse and protector (Thelma Sharma): the voice of reason, the worrier, the harbinger of doom.
This inner circle is supported and developed by a clever play on the Greek chorus: a team of women play both warrior Argonauts and the children’s nurses; a team of men play both Medea’s entourage and Jason’s campaign team.
Then, there is another circle of engagement: Zecora Ura’s company director Jorge Ramos Lopes and a team of helpers are our guides on the journey, helping us make it through the night.
Midnight to dawn – a little over five hours at this time of the year – might seem like a long haul, but we are taken every inch of the way: cosseted, nurtured, guided, loved, and supported – like the innocent children that we all are.