Skip to main content

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

The Herald, August 9th 2011



Popular posts from this blog


Tron Theatre, Glasgow Three stars
One kiss is all it takes for everyone to understand each other in Catriona Lexy Campbell and Mairi Sine Campbell’s new play. Linguistically that is, as ancient and modern are brought to rollickingly intimate life by the Gaelic-based Theatre Gu Leor (Theatre Galore) company in the Tron’s Vic Bar en route to an extensive cross-Scotland tour. The set-up is the sort of ghastly tartan-draped corporate function whose perma-grinning hostess Lisa makes bogus claims of preserving culture while blatantly intent on flogging it off to the highest bidder. Think McWetherspoon by way of Trumpageddon.
With the audience ushered into a cabaret table arrangement by Lisa’s step-daughter Eilidh and serenaded by Eddie’s oh-so-couthy accordion playing, the dirt from Harris is unearthed along with a bottle of David Beckham-branded whisky. This causes the corporate shindig to be disrupted on an epic scale by seventeenth century poet Mairi Ruadh. Which is when both the kissing an…

The Duke

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars
Shon Dale-Jones seems like a very nice chap. You can tell from the way he welcomes each member of the audience into the theatre, shaking them by the hand to a soundtrack of energising 1960s feel-good soul. Such a personable approach helps create a warm and intimate atmosphere, so when he sits at a desk with only a laptop, a volume control and us for company, you can’t help but be charmed from the start of this hour-long foray, both into his own fantastical mind as well as the discursive set of first-world contradictions it lets loose into the world.
It begins with a Royal Worcester porcelain figure of the Duke of Wellington on horseback, which Dale-Jones’ dad bought in 1974 for £750. This would make it worth more than £8,000 in today’s money if his mum hadn’t broken it while dusting. This is just one more thing for Dale-Jones to think about as he attempts to apply a script doctor’s ruthless critique onto a film script he’s been working on for a deca…

This House

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh Four stars
Five years is a long time in politics just as it is in the theatre. When James Graham’s epic reimagining of one of the most pivotal eras in late twentieth century British democracy first appeared in 2012, its depiction of the aftermath of the 1974 hung parliament in Westminster chimed with a then current coalition. Half a decade and a couple of referendums on, Graham’s dramatic whizz through to 1979’s successful vote of no confidence in the Labour government now looks like a warning.
Jeremy Herrin and Jonathan O’Boyle’s touring revival of a production first seen at the National Theatre begins with both sides of the House marching en masse in their grey suits and twin-sets down the aisles of the auditorium before cutting a well-choreographed rug in formation. As the Labour and Tory whips mark out their territory away from the chamber, this proves to be one of the few moments of unity in a breathless yarn that picks at the old-school gentleman’s agree…