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.

25 Responses to “Hotel Medea”

  1. TheatreGoer69

    2009-02-01T13:26:22+00:00

    Congratulations on the new look of London Theatre Blog. For someone whose eyesight has seen better days, the clear presentation of content is most welcome indeed.

    On to this excllent review of Medea. There are two areas I’d like to know more about. First of all the ‘marathon’ aspect of this production. What was the intention behind this unusual time frame and in what way(s) did it inform/influence the action of the play?

    Secondly, and I’m extrapolating from your description of the ‘participatory’ aspect here, but do you think this might be a reaction to the ‘flash mob’ publicity trend that has sparked much media discussion of late?

  2. Stephe Harrop

    2009-02-01T14:54:56+00:00

    I suspect at least part of the intention was to immerse its spectators in the gruelling process of surviving, and moving beyond, the pain and trauma of tragic suffering. As the show’s publicity says: ‘By choosing to stay awake we insist on life and resist death.’ But I’m afraid the challenge to endure extended negative experience was one which I signally failed. A cynic might also suggest that the company’s admirable conceptual ambition leads to an unnecessary and not-terribly-interesting drawing-out of the Medea/Jason courtship in the event’s early stages.

    On your second point, I think you’re possibly right in detecting the influence of the ‘flash mob’. However, one of the key characteristics of the flash mob is that participation is voluntary, not coerced – and that’s something terribly difficult to fake.

  3. Nwando Ebizie

    2009-02-01T15:21:12+00:00

    Hi
    Thanks for this review. I am on of the team of Hotel Medea and was interested in many aspects of your comment (I perform in the piece, and run the marketing and administration for the company). Firstly, of course, you did not watch Hotel Medea, you watched the first part of the trilogy – Zero Hour Market – and so could not appreciate the very essence of the concept of what we are inviting people to engage with. To paraphrase Paul Cox in the Londonist, there is the possibility of a transference to a kind of ‘ritual time’, where the audience and actors go through something together.

    Two points you got wrong – there were around 4 ‘hidden actors’. The ‘audience’ you talk about was very much real. I’m sorry but looks like people just actually did enjoy themselves. These hidden actors are people from our community workshops in Stratford, East London who we have invited into our process and who have given up their time to volunteer with us because they want to share in the experience, not because they are paid stooges.

    And secondly, just a minor point, but one that might have been cleared up had you stayed during the performance and joined us for the final breakfast where we all talk and eat together – there was nothing ‘vaguely South American’ about Zero Hour Market. One of our group is a Mestre in the Bumba Boi festivity from Maranhao in Brazil – and he has been training us in the folkloric dances and creative aspects (such as the ribboned tents) of this for the last year. I don’t believe there were any other South American influences in the piece but maybe you saw something I don’t know about.

    And just to answer the other comment. Obviously, as we have been working on this piece for the last two years, this is not a knee-jerk reaction but rather, a part of our ongoing research into shared experiences. It was influenced by our research in the North East of Brazil into rituals and overnight markets. It was influenced by our research into the myth of Medea (most versions take place in one night) and finally by our desire to experience a different type of contract with the audience. We wanted to pass through this myth collectively, as a group, one group -audience and actors together.

  4. Stephe Harrop

    2009-02-01T16:08:55+00:00

    Yes, you’re quite right. My review does only cover the Zero Hour Market portion of Hotel Medea, for reasons outlined above. And for my vagueness concerning Brazilian folklore I can only offer my profoundest apologies.

    However, I don’t believe I said that no-one present was enjoying themselves. I simply said that fairly often – during the two hours I spent at the event – I (despite my best efforts) wasn’t. Similarly, I made no reference whatever to “paid stooges”, nor did I suggest that your volunteer performers were acting in anything other than good faith.

    But – just out of curiosity – how many is “around 4”?

    • Nwando Ebizie

      2009-02-01T17:10:03+00:00

      I think I just wanted to counter your sneaky derogatory comment about an ‘alleged’ audience. Insinuating, rather than stating that there wasn’t anybody ‘real’ who actually enjoyed joining in the experience.
      But I respect your review as coming from a place where you admit your prejudices and say that you already knew that you don’t like joining in dances at midnight.

      I think there were 4 hidden actors.

  5. Stephe Harrop

    2009-02-01T18:00:58+00:00

    I do hate to quibble, but I think I said that the “hidden” actors made up a “sizeable portion” of that alleged audience – which ought to indicate my belief in the existence of at least a handful of bona-fide punters. (At least some of whom, like me, were trying their best to keep out of the way of those over-zealous volunteers).

    And (just to clarify) I have been known to dance at midnight – I’ve even occasionally enjoyed it. But I do not and never have enjoyed being bullied into pretending that I’m having a marvellous time when I’m not.

  6. Kate Woodhouse

    2009-02-02T16:42:59+00:00

    I must say as someone who attended the Hotel Medea event I cannot disagree with theatregoer69 more when they describe your review as excellent. I thought it badly written with a profound and deep lack of understanding about the totality of the event. Unlike you I did stay until dawn and it was quite special. I have no idea what you are talking about when you say you were bullied by volunteers – all i saw were audience participating in ways more akin to football matches or carnivals i.e alive, excited and involved. Not passively watching a play that finishes with a polite round of applause. I myself am quite shy and although i stayed out of the way and hung around at the back no one forced me into doing anything. Maybe you looked particularly miserable?
    This kind of event is not for everyone but i do feel your review particularly mean spirited and drawing attention away from the very wonderful attempt by this group to do something special and meaningful and from their hearts. Each and everyone of them comitted to giving all they had for the full 6 hours was a very very special experience.

    • TheatreGoer69

      2009-02-02T18:13:43+00:00

      Since you mention me in your comment, I’ll interject with a couple of questions: is there a right or wrong response to a performance? And what is the function of the critical review, if not to stimulate thought and debate?

  7. Stephe Harrop

    2009-02-03T10:01:56+00:00

    @ Kate Woodhouse – I’m glad you enjoyed Hotel Medea. No, really I am. And I’ve no doubt I was looking pretty glum at certain moments. I find your football analogy a little troubling, though – haven’t such gatherings been known to become threatening (even violent?) as well as celebratory? Maybe someone with a better grasp of crowd psychology could help me out here?

    @ TheatreGoer69 – How about these uncontroversial little offerings for starters?

    http://postcardsgods.blogspot.com/2009/01/on-taste-and-truth.html
    http://www.artsjournal.com/performancemonkey/2009/01/you-cant-choose-your-fans.html
    http://postcardsgods.blogspot.com/2009/01/and-i-am-not-moron-or-i-wouldnt-even.html

    And one final thought: 2 people go to a party. The next morning person A says “I had a great time – the party was brilliant”, while B says “I had a terrible night – the party was a disaster”. Does their disagreement necessarily mean that one of them is being maliciously untruthful?

    • TheatreGoer69

      2009-02-03T15:57:28+00:00

      Thank you for the links Stephe. Very interesting articles, particularly the one on taste and truth. We’re all guilty of reducing experiences to subjective binaries, good/bad, like/dislike, and it’s a constant struggle to resist.

      I suppose it’s why I tend to search for the transcendance of common morality in theatre. The Dionysian imperative. When it happens, it’s astonishing. When it’s intended but doesn’t deliver, I’m forced to face the escapist in me. Some times I just go for the hell of it. That’s good too. Look at me…I’m rambling.

      I’ll finish with a link of my own. It would seem that at least one other person shares your view on this production:

      http://www.guardian.co.uk/stage/theatreblog/2009/feb/03/hotel-medea

  8. Lizzie Thompson

    2009-02-04T10:40:08+00:00

    I very much appreciate your honesty in this matter mr Harrop but you cant really judge the piece as you were not there until the end. I am one of the hidden actors in the piece. And in the hidden actors defence i’d like to say there was no form of bullying whatsoever we were just try encouraging you to participate

  9. Stephe Harrop

    2009-02-04T16:01:27+00:00

    I have no doubt, Lizzie, that all the hidden actors were doing their job in perfectly good faith.

    And of course I can’t judge the whole piece – I’ve made no attempt to. But given that I found the time I did spend at Hotel Medea uncomfortable enough to make me want to leave early, I don’t think it’s unreasonable of me to say so openly, and then to attempt to explain why.

  10. J

    2009-02-06T06:03:21+00:00

    We went to Hotel Media last night and had a very different experience to you. Maybe the actors were being less aggressive this time but I didn’t feel like I was being made to do anything out of my comfort zone (well… maybe a bit, but in a good way…) and definitely didn’t experience the physical cajoling you talk about. The idea of participatory theatre fills me with dread (didn’t read up on Hotel Media before buying!) but I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, particularly Zero Hour Market. Again, maybe this performance was different to what you saw but I don’t think there were many hidden actors – there were a some performers who acted in the first section and then joined the crowd and vice versa, plus a few others I was suspicious about, but I wouldn’t say a sizable proportion – I could believe 4, but not much more.
    Just thought I’d add my thoughts seeing as reading your review beforehand made me dread the performance!

  11. Juana y Yolanda

    2009-02-07T10:13:48+00:00

    We went to see Hotel Medea last night and I’m so sorry to say that we did not enjoy at all. Maybe the scene in the market was not as boring as the second and third parts. The second part is interesting when the audience get involved being the children but again it is so long and you end up experience the same scene three times; by the last time you just want to run away and have some fresh air if you don’t want to get asleep. Although we were feeling really really tired by then, we decided to stay for the last scene. Again, we were dissapointed and very very tired. I, Juana, got asleep while watching it sat on a chair.
    Overall we found Hotel Medea quite boring and slow. We tried our best not to fall asleep and keep awake to enjoy the promised breakfast. We were not engaged at all during most of the performance; we just were curious and wanted to know how it was going to end…. but the end was never coming….It was ‘The Neverending Story’.
    We felt like running away as soon as the breakfast was served and catch a cab to get home and have a good night sleep.

    • Nick Young

      2009-02-09T10:28:16+00:00

      I attended Hotel Medea on Saturday night. It is now Monday afternoon and it’s still in my head and haunting me a little. Upon entering Zero Hour Market I was instantly swept up in the world with genuinely friendly market traders wanting to share their acerbic alcohol with me whilst others chased me away for having the front to ask for wares with no money to pay. I was (and I’m happy to say this) a little on edge, feeling that sense of joy/terror that one gets when entering a real carnival.

      The pace and energy sustained throughout part 1 was infectious. I participated in the washing of Jason but felt in no way forced to and in fact did feel quite honoured when handed the bowl of water. During the post wedding rave when Medea administered the kiss of death to her entourage and brother, the majority of the audience were dancing freely but I felt in no way out of place standing at the back so I could watch the scene unfold.

      At the end of Zero Hour Market I was hot and tired and a little anxious that I would have difficulty lasting 4 more hours of being static on my feet for the same, so the change of atmosphere, tone and space in part 2 was instantly intriguing and engaging. Drylands was the beginning of the total immersive experience for me. From grinning like an idiot when shaking Jason’s hand to feeling sheepish that I hadn’t written a question to ask him I felt increasingly like a small child stuck between two malevolent giants – no more so than when put to bed with a teddy and hot chocolate (one of the best things I’ve ever experienced as an audience member) and soothingly stroked back to a slumber when disturbed by Jason and Medea arguing above my head.

      By the time dawn was drawing near I had begun to enter a strange frame of mind brought on by sleep deprivation (obviously) combined with hypnotic text and performances and a merging of times, languages and rituals. The resurrection of Medea’s brother was a genuinely frightening thing to behold. Watching the fear on Medea’s children’s (audience members) faces as they stepped forward to receive the kiss of death was bewitching.

      The strange mixture of Brazilian and English language and culture was a reflection of the ways that worlds collide mutating traditional rituals and customs. There is a Mexican tribe whose traditional burping ceremony is now induced by Coca-Cola that sprang to my mind as I watched Medea using Daz and Fairy in her shamanic spells. Jason clinging to the totemistic power of the fleece whilst cementing his power through TV, Photoshop and badges served as reminder of how we invest faith in figures to rule us who in turn invest faith in – God knows what!

      I liked it. I would have preferred to have been immersed for the total duration with the breaks between sections remaining in the world if not the actual space but I think I would be in a minority. Seeing actors out of costume and character a couple of times during the breaks was also a little disappointing and there was a section where I lost the thread of the narrative. But these are minor quibbles in an ambitious and effective project performed by actors with a rarely equalled commitment, energy and subtlety.

      Perhaps the original reviewer on this post should have stayed for their money’s worth.

  12. Realbristol

    2010-07-19T01:53:29+00:00

    I'm sorry but you CANNOT review this show without having watched the WHOLE trilogy!! The show as a whole piece was fantastic and mesmerising. What a foolish review..

  13. Stephe Harrop

    2010-07-19T08:55:54+00:00

    Perhaps not (though the above absolutely doesn't purport to be a review of the whole trilogy) – but surely I am permitted to offer an account of what was (for me) a pretty unpleasant and sometimes threatening experience, and why I elected (despite my intention to endure the whole performance) to cut the experience short? Or should I just have nursed my sore ribs in silence?

  14. Afterthought443

    2010-07-23T02:01:34+00:00

    I have just come across this review of Zero Hour Market and I think I understand REALBRISTOL's concern. This review can be quite misleading since is entitled Hotel Medea, which is the name of the overnight production made up of Zero Hour Market, Drylands and Feast of Dawn. Perhaps you should consider choosing the accurate title for this account of you personal unpleasant experience as Zero Hour Market, as there is no mention in here of any moments or your experience of Drylands or Feast of Dawn (which together make up the Hotel Medea trilogy) x

  15. Stephe Harrop

    2010-07-23T20:05:07+00:00

    Interesting you should say that, as I've been wondering much the same thing myself (though anyone who manages to read the whole review and still thinks I was present at all three parts of the trilogy really hasn’t been paying attention). I shall bring the matter to the attention of LTB’s editor ……

  16. Mark O'Thomas

    2010-07-24T18:43:00+00:00

    I think to your credit you do acknowledge that the problem might be located less with the piece and more with your own aversion to participate. Perhaps cinema might be a better form for you?

  17. Stephe Harrop

    2010-07-24T19:41:58+00:00

    Thanks for that. I'll bear it in mind.

  18. Rusty A

    2010-07-25T14:32:27+00:00

    Did you go to a press showing maybe, where the audience was bolstered by 'professionals'? I went on Friday night (also only to zero hour market – I have a small child who doesn't take no for an answer when he wakes at 5am ready to play) and didn't feel remotely pressured into joining in, there didn't seem to be any stooges in the audience. I thought it was brilliant.

  19. Stephe Harrop

    2010-07-26T19:13:29+00:00

    Glad you had a good time! I'm afraid I don't remember whether it was an official press night or not (it was eighteen months ago now), but I’d imagine the show’s developed and changed a lot in the last year or so, in any case …

  20. Michael Jenns

    2010-08-01T06:20:41+00:00

    I saw it both at Arcola and at Trinity Wharf and to me at least it seemed the same. That is fantastic. Absolutely nobody should pay any attention to your 'review'. It comes across as mean and petty and more about you then anything else.

  21. Sylvain

    2011-08-17T20:28:57+00:00

    I totally agree with the review, my body was in the show but really wanted to go home, “medea-Jade Maravala acting/performing is pathetic, why would I want to watch a boring egomaniac trying to be tragic?

Comments are closed.