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Hotel Medea hits Digital Stages

Back once again following a wonderful run of performances last summer, Zecora Ura/Para Active showcases ‘Drylands’, part II of Hotel Medea, at the brand new festival of performing arts and media, Digital Stages.

No doubt last year brought many a sleepless night full of exhilarating moments and memories, but for Jungle, the one that stood head, shoulders and quiff above the rest was the nocturnal theatrical experience that goes by the name of Hotel Medea, a Brazil/UK collaboration between the groups Zecora Ura/Para Active.

With the night beginning on the southern banks of the Thames next to the O2 Arena, it no doubt helped set the scene that my companion and I pedalled as fast as we could from Peckham all the way over to the dome, thinking we were going to miss the ferryboat over to the venue, but bless slightly-later-than-expected starts, we arrived into the showman-like arms of a bellowing character, our host for the night, the artistic director Jorge Lopes Ramos.

Crossing the river to Trinity Buoy Wharf we were subjected to a quick debriefing and warm up, and then we entered the vast hall. Probably a good moment to mention the timing of all this… by now it was round about just gone midnight, on a Friday night.

The Hotel Medea experience was broken into three parts, and weaving straight into the first – perhaps the one which most stuck in my memory – the audience was chivvied into the middle, and then infiltrated by a handful of Portuguese-babbling market-folk, with these fantastic illuminated structures from their shoulders, dangling ribbons down into which you were encouraged to enter to listen to their gossiping, their haggling, their telling of fortunes, only to be interrupted by the arrival of the authorities, upon which the characters would flee through the crowd, breezing through everyone like ghostly jellyfish in the dark.

Next up was outright warfare, a riot-style police pack entered making a racket and proceeded into a battle with a goddess; rituals and dance ensued to the sound of a DJ letting loose with a little Pon de Floor (Major Lazer) and M.I.A. and general baile funk beats. Powerful, evocative, and passionate, the leader of the pack fell for the goddess and they were stripped of their clothes and bathed (men and women broken up into respective groups by now). The characters, in their new rustic appearance, now seemed simply beautiful, with their sincerity their catching the audience’s eye.

If that wasn’t enough to keep the crowd awake, there was a break for tea, coffee and biscuits between the acts, so we sat to absorb the action and colours, before being separated into three groups and led through to another part of the building. Entering the next room, surrounded by electioneering paraphernalia, we then met and had our photo taken with the candidate, prompted to smile, chin up and all. And then ensued a rather interesting dimension, as the three groups entered into three separate parts of the narrative, which in due course would cycle around so that each group passed through each experience.

We walked into a room full of screens, chivvied again by smart official-looking men who checked endlessly with each other that everything was okay; all going to plan. On the screens we could see the other two groups in the next room, one sat in a semi circle around a double bed, the other, tucked up in bunkbeds around the outside. The surveillance was interrupted by a short film, we were prompted to complete a short questionnaire, with some responses being read out with a pleasingly dry and sarcastic tone. It was all about the campaign. All about the man. And then we were off again, bustled out into the corridor, into pyjamas, and into the bunkbeds, as the groups rotated.

Tucked in by maids, singing softly, once again in Portuguese, and reading us bedtime stories, they stroked our brows and reassured us, as we lay there like the children of the candidate on the TV, and his wife lay on the bed, suspicious that her husband was betraying her with another woman. And then up up and out of the beds, out of the pyjamas and down onto the chairs in front of the bed, where we watched the wife talking with her maid, inspecting her husband’s mobile phone, and the confrontation which ensued. At this point myself and indeed half of our group struggled to keep a straight face, as some 85-year old chap began to snore gently in one of the beds. Some people just love getting into character.

Another interval, more tea and coffee, and then the final act, which saw us split into male and female groups again, the men prepped in the room with the televisions whilst the ladies were spread out in the rooms with the beds. We were made to don ladies’ wigs and told we had to infiltrate the women’s gathering, without blowing our cover, to discover secrets, information, although what exactly that might be, was left unexplained. So we crept in on what had become a cabaret of a love soiree and perched on the beds and chairs, trying our best not to look incongruous.

There was some singing, some heart to heart from the host of the cabaret, quite literally, as she placed the microphone on the hearts of some of the members of the audiences and interrupted the beats with questions. I was expecting a baby, it turned out. And then the act culminated in a bloody finale, the hostess seemingly victim of a rape, of the wrongs of man, with a mass mourning and the placing of flowers all over the woman and the plinth she lay upon. And then chaos, panic stations, running to and fro, looking for things until we were outside of the building, scampering around in little groups of four or five, hiding under cloaks and trying to communicate with our mobile phones as the sky was clearing above, approaching 5am…

Eventually the commotion calmed down and we were brought back into the main hall where it all began, where we sat down at the longest of banquet tables, and had breakfast. Are you getting the picture as to why this was perhaps the most memorable of nights last year had to offer?

Now I could well have confused the order and indeed details of some of these elements, for we were kept awake right through the night, so your best bet would be to be to hit up the Digital Stages festival this month and check out the indeed more technologically-themed second act of Hotel Medea, Drylands, at a time which might be a little more audience-friendly, though no less memorable. Enjoy your stay.

By Milo Steelefox

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Hotel Medea: Drylands @ Digital Stages Festival
DRYLANDS: Part II
22-24 April 2011, 7pm
£15 full price / £9 concessions

Venue: Trinity Buoy Wharf, 64 Orchard Place, London, E14 0JY
A 10min walk from East India DLR / Free parking for audiences.
Box Office: 020 7503 1646 or arcolatheatre.com

digitalstagesfestival.co.uk
glaz.co.uk

DIGITAL STAGES is a new festival of performing arts and digital media organised by
multimedia company GLAZ (www.glaz.co.uk)

DRYLANDS is Part II of the Hotel Medea Trilogy. In a cold post-modern wasteland communication technology gives the illusion of intimacy whilst creating a cold absence. Hot chocolate, lullabies and CCTV cameras create different perspectives on betrayal.

Hotel Medea is produced and created by Persis-Jade Maravala and Zecora Ura www.medea.tv

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