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Hotel Medea - Up All Night With The Brazilian Fringe Sensation

One of the defining hits of this year's Edinburgh Festival Fringe has
been Hotel Medea, the six-hour all-night version of the Greek Medea
myth that runs each weekend in August from midnight until dawn.
Produced by Anglo-Brazilian theatre company Zecora Ura in association
with London-based, Yemen-born director and performer Persis Jade
Maravala, who plays Medea as well as co-directing with Zecora Ura's
Jorge Lopes Ramos, Hotel Medea is a disorienting experiential whirlwind
that puts the audience in the thick of the action, from the rave-like
fiesta of love, death and colonialism that opens the first two hours,
to the after-hours dream-state of a dormitory bunk-bed where you're
stroked to sleep by nurse-maids as a very personal war rages close by.

As a piece of theatre Hotel Medea is all-consuming. This isn't just the
case for the audience too, but also for Maravala and Ramos, who've
spent the last six years creating what is clearly a labour of love. As
with so much great art, however, Hotel Medea was born out of adversity
when the company Maravala ran imploded, while a similarly disillusioned
Ramos looked for different ways of working after scoring a commercial
hit with Zecora Ura's Brazilian version of Shakespeare's The Tempest.
Once these two very different directors eventually agreed to work
together, the decision for Hotel Medea to be the sense-assaulting
upside-down epic it has become was one of the earliest steps in the
long journey to the show's eventual staging.

“We didn't know what manner we were going to do the show in when we
decided to do it,” Maravala admits. “The manner grew with us in a way.
The only thing Jorge had decided was that he wanted to tackle the myth
of Medea, and what interested me in getting involved was that, at that
time, there was the whole war on terror that had established itself
firmly in our minds, and people from different countries were being
talked about as being dangerous. That reminded me of Medea, who was
perpetually in exile, and of how terrifying and dangerous women can be
for men. So my main interest in Medea as a woman was as a terrorist. In
terms of Greek mythology she's the most subversive of characters, and
she gets away with it.”

Work began on the show in Brazil, where it grew into a smaller piece
called Lament For Medea. It was then that the pair hit upon the idea to
keep the audience up all night,” says Maravala. “The more I looked into
Brazilian rhythms for the movement of the show, the more I discovered
they were created to make you stay up all night. They work on the brain
in a certain way to keep you going, which I thought was amazing, but I
didn't take them lightly. I absorbed myself in these ritualistic
movements to try and understand them.”

In this way, Maravala and Ramos' working methods are completely
different. Where Maravala is rooted in physical creative processes
derived from Jerzy Grotowsky, Ramos is much more lateral and open to
outside influence. The tension between the two, however, is what makes
Hotel Medea so electric.

“I was at a crossroads after The Tempest,” Ramos explains, “and knew
that we could either carry on making work in a way that fitted in with
funding and production systems, or that I could do something that was
the opposite extreme and try and make work that was almost impossible
to put on.”

Ramos founded Zecora Ura while studying European theatre at Rose
Bruford College after leaving a then politically tumultuous Brazil on
advice of his actor father after many of his peers disappeared. Since
then, Ramos has kept company offices in both east London and Rio de
Janeiro Given the sheer scale of the leap in the dark of Hotel Medea,
bodies previously supportive of the company almost universally said no
to the project. Eventually Salisbury International Festival took a risk
at much the same time as Zecora Ura's host theatre in Rio took a
similar chance.

“It was pretty fraught at the beginning,” says Maravala, “because we
were both in crisis point at the same time, and I was even questioning
what was the point of being an artist. But when I first went to Brazil
I recognised there was something there, even though my axis is
completely vertical and Jorge's is completely lateral.”

Early versions of Hotel Medea appeared at the Arcola Theatre in
London's east end and in Brazil. Despite the show's current must-see
status, however, it is far from finished.

“We still rehearse and train every day,” says Maravala, “and there are
parts of it now that are completely different to how they were when we
first arrived in Edinburgh.”

This intense desire by Maravala and Ramos to create work on their own
terms has clearly paid off in spades, and beyond Hotel Medea, they are
already plotting their next collaboration.

“Woyzeck,” says Maravala.

“On safari,” Ramos picks up.

While both parties are determined this latest project won't take six
years to bear fruit, with a premiere already pencilled in for 2014,
Maravala and Ramos' healthy creative friction looks set to continue.

As Maravala puts it, “We still have plenty to argue about.”

Hotel Medea, Summerhall, August 19-20 and August 26-28

The Herald, August 19th 2011



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