In Zecora Ura’s Hotel Medea the audience are invited to attend a six hour long performance that begins at midnight and ends with breakfast at six in the morning. Broken into three parts, it is a mammoth meeting of audience, actors and dancers with the story of love and hatred, as Medea seeks revenge upon her husband Jason by brutally murdering each of their children. Sadly, the version presented as part of the Digital Stages Festival (a new festival exploring the uses of digital technologies in performance) was only Part 2 of the Hotel Medea trilogy called Drylands but this alone offers an experience that leaves you gasping for the full version.
Drylands comes after the wedding between Jason and Medea, after several years of happy bliss and numerous children being born. In Ura’s modern take, Jason is running for prime minster or president and is in the midst of his election campaign. Gathered into a room we are presented to Jason, allowed to shake his hand (not to firm, not too weak), and get our photo taken with him. We act as a focus group for our opinions on Jason, asked to fill out questionnaires and are subjected to watching campaign material flickering on multiple screens. This is all nicely juxtaposed by wearing headphones that have a running commentary from one of Jason’s campaign runners allowing us to eavesdrop on conversations about what Jason really thinks.
The control room with dozens of screens shows other aspects of the performance which are simultaneously taking place. At one point we see Jason going home to conduct an interview with his family, the camera crew barging into the bedroom of Medea and interrupting a scene that is taking place for another set of audience members. Later we find ourselves as the audience within the bedroom as the action is repeated three times, each audience rotating to a new section of the action. This offers a 360 degree look at this section of the performance, witnessing it from within, and also externally through cameras and screens.
After Jason’s campaigning we are led gently away by maids and dressed into pajamas, given hot chocolate and tucked into beds. The maids sooth and care for us, giving us soft toys and showing us a picture story of the events of Jason and Medea. We are of course Medea’s children, so lovingly looked after, that this section of the piece sooths us into slumber. It’s strange to reflect now and think how cared for I felt during that moment. Of course you’re meant to be looked after, and meant to be soothed, but perhaps it was a willingness to resort to childhood so easily that is so rooted in the subconscious. Whilst this moment could have lasted a lifetime, the inevitable killing of the children by Medea is something that I’m glad we didn’t get to partake in, although I believe in the full version this does take place.
From children we become voyeurs in Medea’s bedroom, her “lovers” that have been especially invited into the ‘inner room’. Medea lays in a heap of bed sheets and bemoans the whereabouts of her husband. Her maid after questioning each of us on the aspects of love, “Have you loved someone? / When did you last hurt someone? / How long does love last?”, attempts to sooth her mistress . Upon Jason’s arrival with the film crew the relationship between them is clearly strained. Jason receives a call from another lover and disappears into the night leaving Medea alone to discover a video of this ‘other love’ on his phone.
Here a beautiful use of video projection overlaying Medea commences with a glorious rapture of strings and electronic music. Medea in her torment and suffering pulls the arrow of love out of her breast and writes a message to Jason telling him that her love for him is no more. It is a brilliant climax to the end of Drylands.
As a whole it is clear that the Hotel Medea trilogy is a spectacle that has to be experienced in person to appreciate the depth and energy that Ura has crafted. Within the Digital Stages Festival Drylands offers a real glimpse into the potential of digital technologies for a performance. Medea is wonderfully brought into the modern age, and offers an episodic cycle of events brilliantly captured through the use of cameras and technology.
It is rare that as an audience member experiencing an immersive performance I’m truly immersed in the piece. There is always that self-doubt, knowing that the actors are trying hard to convince you that the world you have entered is somewhat real. Drylands however does away with the attempt of convincing you, and instead offers it calmly, like the extended hand of the maid to aid you to sleep. It is tender, considered and balanced against the whole performance. It’s rare that I want to experience a performance again, but if Drylands is anything to go by the Hotel Medea is worth the lack of sleep for.