I’ve always hated Butlins. I hate the enforced jollity, the compulsory joining-in and the patronising aren’t-we-all-having-fun of it. I get this from my grandma, who once actually threatened to bite a particularly persistent (or foolhardy) Redcoat. I mention this slight prejudice because it may have some bearing on my serious aversion to Hotel Medea.
I quite liked the fact that Jason’s Argonauts were dressed like something out of Blake’s 7. I quite liked the comedy footy match played out between opposing armies (with both taking dives). I liked the whirl of ribbons and lights that took us to a marketplace in Medea’s vaguely South American homeland. I was game for a sing-along and a play-along and a dance. I even joined in to the extent of confirming my suspicions that professional handmaidening must be a pretty tedious job. But what I really couldn’t stand was the officious and incessant pestering of supposedly ‘hidden’ actors who made up a sizeable portion of the alleged ‘audience’.
These egregious nuisances – easy to spot because they know the words to the songs – were evidently under the impression that their job was to chivvy and/or bully the rest of us into compliant communal enthusiasm. I tried as hard as I could to lurk among the non-joiners, politely embarrassed, like the kid at a party who’d rather read a book. Unfortunately for me, my persecutors weren’t taking the hint.
If I want to do dance-aerobics in the middle of the night – well I don’t. But if I did, the idea that my goodwill might be engaged by much grabbing of my hand and vigorous shoving in the ribs (some of which actually hurt) seems pretty far-fetched. I’m prepared to believe that no-one meant to offend me (and certainly not hurt me), but this over-zealous evangelism left me grinding my teeth, thinking vaguely vengeful thoughts and longing for a way out.
In all fairness, the last four hours of this marathon all-nighter may well have been amazing. There were certainly hints that events might be about to take a turn for the darker, with a bloody-mouthed Medea wandering through a dramatically-lit rave, dispatching her brothers/bodyguards/army in her overpowering passion for Jason. I’m afraid I’ll never know – having escaped at 2am, bruised, exhausted – and with an overwhelming sense of relief.
Participatory theatre is hard. Especially when the audience don’t want to play ball. But I remain to be convinced that relentless pestering, emotional blackmail and the odd physical shove onto the dancefloor is the answer. There are many engaging and entertaining and striking things about Hotel Medea, all sadly undermined the amateurishly aggressive attitude of certain participants towards innocent, and justifiably underwhelmed punters. Upon mature reflection – maybe I should have taken my grandma.