Features Q&A and Interviews Published 29 June 2012

Hotel Medea

Hotel Medea is a trilogy of works created by Jorge Lopes Ramos and Persis-Jade Maravala based on the myth of Medea. Divided into the chapters 'Zero Hour Market', 'Drylands' and 'The Feast of Dawn', the production takes place between midnight and dawn and offers a "‘dramaturgy of participation’ to the audience member which involves; risk, intimacy and collective action in a way which sets out to re-write the ‘unspoken contract’ with the audience not as consumers, but as collaborators."
Catherine Love

Not long into our interview, Jorge Lopes Ramos, co-creator of ambitious overnight theatre experience Hotel Medea, is at pains to stress the collaborative aspect of the durational piece he has helped to coordinate. “This is not my work,” he says firmly, “but ours”. He is referring specifically to his fellow director Persis-Jade Maravala, who is unable to join our chat, but he might as well also be speaking more widely about everyone involved in each performance, right down to the last audience member. Because if one thing is vital to this extraordinary night of theatre, it is the collaboration of its audience.

Hotel Medea in action. Photo: Ludovic des Cognets

It was not initially clear, however, whether such an audience would even exist. “This is not – no pun intended – an overnight success,” Ramos insists. Despite emerging from its premiere at Edinburgh as a much discussed hit, it took a lengthy development process to translate Hotel Medea from a bold embryonic idea to a finished six-hour show. At first, Ramos explains, it met with a lot of scepticism and reluctance from industry programmers, mainly because of the sheer impractical audacity of staging a production between midnight and dawn. As a result, Hotel Medea became a self-proclaimed “act of resistance”, a stubborn placing of trust in the belief that audience members would want to take this theatrical endurance test.

“If you ask anyone who has seen the show, the fact that it’s six hours long never crosses their mind,” Ramos claims in response to my suggestion that keeping audiences engaged during the night must be a struggle. The length certainly seems not to have put off the many theatregoers who have happily jumped into their pyjamas for a night at Hotel Medea during its numerous runs, the latest of which takes place at the South Bank Centre this summer. In the minds of its creators, Ramos tells me, the experience is one connected with the unique quality of night time rather than with the number of hours it lasts. “Whether it’s four or six or eight hours long makes very little difference, because the engagement is with midnight and daybreak, so however long that is, you’re moving towards dawn.” It creates, as much theatre does, a fluid relationship with time.

Ramos does admit, however, that a fair amount of thought has had to go into sustaining the energy of audience members throughout the performance. “The whole dramaturgy of the event, which we call dramaturgy of participation, is centred on how a person reacts or engages with events at every time of the night,” he explains. Through a rigorous process of audience research, Hotel Medea is meticulously crafted to keep its audience actively and passively engaged at the right moments, judging when to recruit them in role play and when to give them a breather. Even more ingeniously, this structure of participation and rest has been carefully woven into the narrative of the myth that is being told.

So why this myth? Before answering my question, Ramos is quick to emphasise that this is not an adaptation of Euripides’ text – “we’re dealing with a myth, not a version of a myth”. Of all the Greek myths handed down to us, the tale of Medea’s betrayal and bloody revenge courts possibly the most enduring fascination, becoming the subject of recurring artistic interpretations. Ramos thinks that it’s all to do with the shock factor. “In other Greek myths, because of the time context, you almost need to redesign the taboo for today. With Medea you don’t; it’s still as fresh and as full of impact.”

But impact is not the only reason for selecting this particular myth. It also just so happens that all of Medea’s revenge against philandering Jason is wreaked overnight, rendering it the perfect story to tell in this nocturnal environment. As Ramos goes on to elaborate, the inexorable approach of the dawn holds equal significance for their presentation of the myth. “The arrival of the sun is symbolic,” he says. “The sun god is Medea’s grandfather, who has given Medea’s father the golden fleece as a birth present, which is what attracts Jason to invade Medea’s land in the first place.”


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Catherine Love

Catherine is a freelance arts journalist and theatre critic. She writes regularly for titles including The Guardian, The Stage and WhatsOnStage. She is also currently an AHRC funded PhD candidate at Royal Holloway, University of London, pursuing research into the relationship between text and performance in 21st century British theatre.

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