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Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Welcome to Hotel Medea

As those who know me can attest, I am a big fan of the old 'immersive theatre' craze which seems to have been sweeping London's theatre scene in recent years. It started with Punchdrunk's 'Faust', continued with 'Masque of the Red Death' and a few dalliances with The Lyric's 'Contains Violence' and the slightly warped 'Abattoir Pages'. Even White Mischief tried to get in on the act, although not with complete success.. Having recently taken in the latest Punchdrunk offering, 'The Duchess of Malfi', a friend suggested we up our game with The Arcola's 'Hotel Medea'.

We thought we had seen it all. Wander around in dark rooms, wearing a mask and trying to find actors? Been there. Sit on a roof-top wearing headphones and checking out the acting in the office building opposite? Done that. Try to find the prohibition-style bar hidden somewhere behind the scenes? Sooo yesterday. What could stimulate our jaded palates if not an all night theatre performance in the middle of nowhere near Canning Town? When I say all-night, that really is the truth. Try 11pm-5:30am, propped up only by the promise of coffee, biscuits and breakfast at dawn.

So there we found ourselves, at 11pm at North Greenwich Pier with our snacks and water bottles, not entirely sure what to expect. A charismatic Brazlilian named Jorge welcomed us on the boat, and swiftly pulled out his iPhone: 'Is ok I film you?' Well, who could say no to that charming Brazilian accent? He asked what our expectations were of the production and I waffled something about hearing that the energy of the actors in Hotel Medea was enough in itself to keep the audience awake and engaged, never mind the coffee and biscuits. I later found out Jorge Lopes Ramos was the Artistic Director and the creative driving force behind Hotel Medea.

After a short hop across the Thames, we were deposited at Trinity Buoy Wharf (more of that later) and put through our paces in small groups to prepare us for certain elements of the production such as the 'call and response' singing, spontaneous rhyming, and some simple dance moves. We were worried. Though after having been plied with the first round of the promised refreshments we were calmed and ready to take on whatever the night would bring.
Instead of an in-depth description of the entire production (which can be found here and here), I'll instead impart to you my personal highs and lows of the night:

- Helping to prepare Medea for her wedding ceremony to Jason by washing, clothing and anointing her with fragrant herbs. Men and women were split at this point, creating a real spirit of anticipation and audience participation.
- Being put into pyjamas (over my clothes), tucked into a bunk-bed, given hot cocoa and read a story by our 'maid'. Then it was time to 'sleep', while overhearing Jason and Medea arguing over their deteriorating relationship - an effective way of having the audience experience the action from the point of view of their children.
- The use of CCTV style viewing of the action from the 'focus group' room - a clinical intimacy if you will.
- Experiencing 'Club Exile - the club exclusively for heart-broken women'. Men were allowed to infiltrate (having been told to 'gather evidence of Medea's betrayal'), wearing wigs and lipstick which provided some well-needed comedic relief.
- Running around like lunatics, trying to hide under a blanket in an alley-way at about 5am.

- Slightly forced audience participation in the first act. We needed to warm up a bit before feeling in the mood to jump around to Brazilian beats.
- Being stranded somewhere near Canning Town at 6am. The promised minibus proving throughly useless, with the driver eventually dumping us somewhere near All Saints with the comment "I think there's a bus stop down there somewhere." Admittedly he was confused by the closure of several roads due to a triathlon, but ANY tube station would be been better than none. Thank God a taxi made a timely appearance.

On the whole I would warmly recommend Hotel Medea, especially if you are as particular with theatre as we are. We prepared well by sleeping in, and having a nap between 7pm-9pm so it really was surprisingly easy to stay awake. The Trinity Buoy Wharf area was actually really fascinating too. It seems to be something of an artsy quarter, so we may well be back to take in future events. Once the sun was up, I took a load of pics.

Some cute office space for rent:

'Container City':

We'll definitely be coming back here!

Funny mechanical wing contraption. We managed to make it flap v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y.

This is where the action took place:

Our breakfast feast (breakfeast?):

Needless to say, we collapsed into bed as soon as soon as we got home, but by about midday we were perky again. Almost felt like a long weekend!

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