How to survive all-night theatre piece 'Hotel Medea'

Tamara Gausi explains how to survive an all-night theatrethon, as she stays the night at the Arcola Theatre's 'Hotel Medea'

  • How to survive all-night theatre piece 'Hotel Medea'

    Hotel Medea

  • You may have heard the buzz about ‘Hotel Medea’ by now. Presented at the Arcola Theatre by Zecora Ura and Urban Dolls following two years in development, it’s currently London’s most ambitious theatre show – no small feat in a city also showing a play about Soviet dissidents accompanied by a 32-piece orchestra and, elsewhere, a performance piece for eight set in a caravan.

    Mixing ancient Greek tragedy with sumptuous Brazilian ritual, surtitle-less Portuguese and English dialog, a designated nap-time for flagging audience members and a post-show breakfast with the cast and creative team, at times ‘Hotel Medea’ feels like the theatrical version of bingeing on absinthe – a decadent idea that starts off as lots of fun but quickly descends into hallucinatory madness, eased by flashes sensory opulence. However, if you’re up for the challenge, here’s our step-by-step guide to surviving your stay at Hotel Medea.

    Remember: this is not passive theatre

    On checking-in at 11.59pm, you’ll have no option but to get involved, be it as a guest during Jason and Medea’s wonderfully immersive wedding sequence or in a later, poorly conceived flight from Medea’s attackers. If the idea of participatory theatre brings you out in hives, then stay at home or go and see something on the Strand.

    Forget all knowledge of the original story

    Narrative coherence is not one of ‘Hotel Medea’s’ strong points, with the original story providing for the basis for exploration of theatrical form rather than character and story. Despite a committed performance from the actor known as PJM playing Medea (no laughing matter when you are pregnant and on stage six hours a night), there is very little sense of a woman driven into the dark recess of her soul by jealousy and revenge. But it’s the failure of a story laden with visual trinkets and a rather prominent but ultimately superfluous immigration subplot rather than any fault of the performers.

    Don’t go to sleep

    There are two points within the performance where you can sleep for at least 20 minutes. Don’t. Despite the best efforts of the rather enthusiastic maids who will try all manner of brow stroking and soft-talking to convince you otherwise, power naps are a false economy: you will feel worse afterwards, and during the second sleep slot, you might even miss the dramatic climax. Drink coffee. Stick pins in your eyes. Whatever – just stay awake.

    But do enjoy the experience

    How often do you get to stay up all night at the theatre? Yes, it could be comfortably trimmed by 90 minutes but you do feel an incredible sense of achievement having made it through the night. And you don’t get that from sleeping.

    And do stay for breakfast

    By God, you earned it. Eating might be the last thing on your mind after six hours of experimental theatre, but it may give you the perfect opportunity to have some of those questions answered (and you will have them) before facing the cold, hard light of Dalston at dawn. 'Hotel Medea' is at the Arcola Theatre until Feb 14.

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