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Hotel Medea – Summerhall - 5 stars Oedipus – Pleasance – 3 stars - Edinburgh Fringe 2011 Reviews

It's sometime after 3am on the first Saturday morning, and in a
makeshift nursery cum dormitory, a group of pyjama-clad children are
being stroked to sleep by hand-maidens after being fed hot chocolate.
Through a wall of people mere feet away, an argument is in motion
between the childrens' parents. Barely able to keep their eyes open but
shaken from their slumber anyway, the children attempt to tune in on
snatches of raised voices and grown-up things they can't fully
understand anyway. The feuding couple in question are the legendary
Jason and Medea, and we, the audience, are their teddy-bear clutching
offspring, caught in the crossfire of wars both personal and political.

This is Hotel Medea, a six-hour contemporary rendering of the sexiest
and most brutal of Greek myths as thrillingly reinvented by the
Anglo-Brazilian theatre explorers Zecora Ura, who from midnight till
6am embark on an immersive promenade through emotional and theatrical
extremes. As the audience become central to the action, scenes such as
the one described above are deeply affecting studies of the most
intimate effects of conflicts great and small.

The first of the show's three parts begins festively enough, with a
percussion-led mardi-gras and rudimentary dance classes before the fun
really starts as Jason and his Argonauts go off in search of the much
sought-after golden fleece.

Jason is an obnoxious Danny Dyer-like wide-boy Brit abroad, while his
Argonauts are a regiment of women sporting crash helmets, baseball bats
and chains. Over the next two hours the barrier between performer and
audience blurs in a maelstrom of furiously-charged rituals, from war to
weddings, all fuelled by the infectious club sounds of DJ Dolores. As
Jason and Medea move from enemies to lovers, the action is hot, sweaty
and erotically charged. Even here, however, there are dark portents of
cultural colonialism, with Persis-Jade Maravala's Medea fetishised as
the ultimate white boy's prize.

This becomes explicit in the second part, in which Jason the conquering
warrior has turned slimeball career politician playing away with a
younger, blonder and infinitely less complicated model while his now
neglected bride stays at home. That's when the audience become Medea's
doomed children or else become embroiled in some sycophantic
pre-election focus group for Jason, whose immigration policies alone
are frighteningly familiar.

By the time we enter into the third and final part sometime before
dawn, it's the sex wars that have taken precedence, as Medea performs
in a gender-bending rad-fem cabaret club. It's the final scenes that
prove most harrowing, though; as a violated Medea leads a processional
as evocative as any modern day public display of grieving.

Five years in the making, Jorge Lopes Ramos and Maravala's production
is an astonishingly realised piece of work that takes in aspects of the
public and the private, politics and patriarchy, misogyny, motherhood
and, ultimately, the power of defiance. The way body and mind are wrung
emotionally and physically overnight stimulates a near lysergic set of
responses as it goes.

If it weren't for the sheer unfettered fearlessness of the
performances, however, none of this would matter. James Turpin's Jason
is corrupt on every level. As Medea's brother, Urias de Oliveira is a
ball of diabolic energy. But it's Maravala's Medea who leaves a lump in
the throat in a relentless, no holds barred display in this utterly
unmissable, deeply profound and heartbreaking treatise on love and war.

After all that, Steven Berkoff's version of Oedipus can't help but look
conventional. Not that there isn't a sinewy dynamism to Berkoff's own
production, in which, like the last of the great actor managers, he
plays old king Creon as some sunkissed godfather to Simon Merrells'
gold-chain sporting Oedipus. As a figurehead to the common people, here
a flat-capped chorus lined up behind a long table in a series of
tableaux that look part Last Supper, part L.S. Lowry, Oedipus'
political certainties are knocked for six by private indiscretions he's
yet to become aware of, let alone comprehend.

The mists start to clear on Anita Dobson's entrance as Jocasta, which
sees Dobson waft voluminously into play in a slow-burner of a show that
looks to ancient Japanese influences as much as the Greek which Berkoff
now prefers to play straight rather than the heroic cockneyfications
that first made his name.

Berkoff's virtuosic flourishes remain, however, and the ensemble
performances are all expertly realised, with an expansive sense of
concentration that puts heart and soul into every stretch of the
fingertips that accompanies each chewily ennunciated phrase. While this
puts paid to the suspicion that Berkoff could knock this sort of thing
out in his sleep, he's been doing it so long, there are no surprises
either in what nevertheless remains a masterclass of Berkoffian
technique.

The Herald, August 9th 2011

ends

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