100 participants, 15 actors, five miles of wiring, ten rooms over three floors, a 5000 year old story – and all played out over six hours in the middle of the night. Brazilian-UK theatre company Zecora Ura have set themselves a very high bar in this ambitious retelling of the myth of Medea.
After entering the dissection labs of the old University of Edinburgh veterinary school, the audience find themselves at a Brazilian street party, the mood broken when the Argonauts, updated to motorcycle leather-clad mercenaries, storm in, killing the locals and capturing Medea. A beautiful marriage ceremony in which the audience ritually strip and wash Jason and Medea closes the first act, whereupon those with tickets only for the first part of Hotel Medea leave, giving way to a series of disjointed scenes in which audience members play Jason’s campaign workers and then his children, dressed in pyjamas and tucked up in bed.
Over these six hours, the audience are required to concentrate on a complicated plot, often played out in a highly oblique way. Consequently, the production requires the creation of an all-encompassing world – one so powerful that there is no question of not being completely drawn in. Unfortunately, this is far from the case—as evidenced by the audience’s drooping eyes and bored expressions—and one of the main protagonists bizarrely breaking character to plug another show doesn’t help.
Apart from a few extremely powerful scenes, the long minutes spent alternately watching grainy CCTV footage and then pseudo-artistic dance routines feels like a never-ending progression of overly ambitious art college exhibitions, not the moving retelling of an ancient myth.
Unlike many other comedians at the Fringe, Rich Hall hasn’t in the title of his show appended his name with a witty or cryptic phrase – he doesn’t need to. The famously grumpy Hall comes to the packed Pleasance Grand with no gimmick or overarching theme, but a seemingly never-ending stream of hilarious barbs aimed at the excesses of both his home and adopted countries.
Hall knows exactly how to pull a crowd’s strings: he starts off with a panegyric to the ingenuity of the Scottish nation and makes brilliant observations about our money (“Your banknotes are like snowflakes – no two are the same”), our eating habits and our politics. He brings, however, the rare perspective of someone who has come from elsewhere and now knows and loves our country even more than we do, rather than falling back—as many others do—on trite national stereotypes. In short, Hall finds humour in the fact that we are unique, and not just different.
Hall is an extremely nimble, versatile performer, jumping back and forth between Britain and America, standup and music, his routine and improvisation. He deftly manipulates the audience to put down some particularly persistant hecklers and you get the feeling that Hall could have not prepared at all and would still have had the audience in the palm of his hand.
Comics that are so used to the refined world of stadium tours and TV panel shows sometimes struggle in the more rough-and-ready world of the Fringe. Not so with Hall. He is a true Fringe legend. And you have to admire a man who can find a rhyme for “Penicuik” and knows perhaps the world’s only joke about quantitative easing.