13
Jun
15

Medea

 

Medea

La Boite Theatre Co

The Roundhouse

May 30 – June 20 2015

 

Reviewed by Xanthe Coward

  

Medea is a strategic, ambitious, political woman; sharp, quick and strong. In Jason she meets her ambitious and strategic equal, as well as a lover. The passionate union between the misunderstood foreigner Medea, and the all-Greek golden boy Jason was unlikely, but allows Medea to invest in the very empire building she was made for.

 

When Jason betrays Medea, she is outraged. He has betrayed her as a husband, but more importantly he has also betrayed his oath, their pact, and their very empire. His desertion denied Medea all sources of power in this patriarchal Greek world of Corinth. So too has he set in motion the fate of his sons, who are now, unacknowledged by him, relegated a latent threat in this land.

 

Medea will not abide by injustice or broken oaths and is compelled to balance the scales. So we watch as this modern character plots to cut Jason down and to protect her sons from the horrors of torture and death. 

 

medea_candles

 

 

If Suzie Miller had written a one-woman Medea Christen O’Leary could do it.

 

 

This is O’Leary’s show, with Helen Christinson getting a good look in, thanks to the playwright’s astute version of the story (commissioned by Chris Kohn), and The Australian Voices largely contributing to the atmosphere, pace and shape of this piece. It’s powerful and magical, and it’s the best we’ve seen at La Boite for a long time.

 

 

In Todd McDonald I have found a director who embraced this furious version of Medea, and interrogated it with great insight and talent.

Suzie Miller

 

 

It’s well and truly time to see a production in The Roundhouse that actually fits the purpose built space, and not only does Sarah Winters’ gothic design fit (lit and un-lit superbly by Ben Hughes), it sits so well within the space we almost feel like we’re home again, breathing in the old wooden floorboards of Hale Street. This may be an entirely unrelated design choice but I’m going to imagine that the stripped-back boards are a magical, subliminal message that this Artistic Director is here to stay for a while. If you don’t believe in signs from the universe or the bones of the city telling our story as they’re sung (and smudged) over, you can just appreciate the raw, earthy, honest quality that this floor brings to the production.

 

medea_helenandchristen

 

Miller’s Medea is a well crafted text with a strong feminist take that sits perfectly with the 16-year-olds we take to see the show a week after opening night. We talk afterwards, as we often do, about withholding judgment of the characters’ actions. Medea’s not mad, she’s vengeful and willful and stubborn and strong. She’s scheming, unforgiving and relentless in her bid to make Jason’s life a misery. She’s a murderer. She’s misunderstood. But she’s not mad. Somebody commented after the show, in true Roxie Hart style, “Why didn’t she just kill the bastard?” Well, because then he wouldn’t continue to suffer, as she has been made to do.

 

 

When we put Medea in a position where her children are about to be torn limb from limb by angry crowds, is it not the most compassionate thing she can offer them – a calm, kind and loving death?

Suzie Miller

 

 

O’Leary is absolutely spellbinding in gorgeous draped and gathered dogstar style garb to perfectly complement the new Ruby Rose/Alan Cumming inspired tough-chick haircut. All the costumes are fabulous, ready to wear, designed by Nathalie Ryner (The Danger Ensemble’s Caligula) and cut by Bianca Bulley & Leigh Buchanan. (I’d wear every piece!). O’Leary captures motherly tenderness and everywoman’s vulnerability, which is so often overlooked by actresses (and directors) who insist on making Medea only angry. In O’Leary, we feel her loss long before she’s committed the crime and whenever we get a glimpse of the love she once felt for her husband, she flips it and tosses it in his face with sharp wit and wicked humour. She’s brimming with brilliant, gleaming, delighted spite, and an indescribable grief that’s so well contained we would naturally think her monstrous if her story popped up in our newsfeed (before clicking “Like” on a friend’s Friday night #styleinspo photo. Just saying).

 

medea_helen

 

Speaking of style, as Nurse (although, perhaps more beautifully, innocently “handmaiden” than “nurse”), Christinson is attentive and warm. In stark contrast, as Glauce she is necessarily cold, overbearing and unforgiving. And wearing a sensational ensemble that I bet our Cate wouldn’t mind throwing on for the school run. Ryner should send it to her after June 20! This is the additional role, which Miller includes to highlight the struggle between powerful women. The scene between them is intense and Christinson shines, but it’s O’Leary, losing her composure and rolling hysterically on the floor at the foot of Glauce’s steps, which creates one of the lasting images from this production. It’s the sound of her laughter as much as the vision that resonates. Is that wrong?

 

medea_theaustralianvoices

 

Composer, Gordon Hamilton, has created the entire eerie soundscape and a stunning Greek Chorus using his own voice, a bit of techie trickery and four exquisite vocalists from The Australian Voices (Annika Hinrichs, Yasmin Powell, Simon Carl & Connor D’Netto). These four figures are present as onlookers, concerned citizens, warning Medea until she can’t stand their foreboding any longer, “Careful, careful, careful, careful!” I can’t explain the technicalities of the musical work as he does so here’s an extract from Hamilton’s blog, which is excellent by the way, and if you’re at all musically inclined you should probs be reading it/him on a regular basis. I love the almost subliminal inclusion of Never Tear Us Apart, working like a haunting and heartbreaking Judas kiss. This is a truly contemporary ancient chorus, used to breathtaking effect. The show would be really dull different without it…

 

 

Our chorus is partially but not completely based on Euripides chorus. They are worried onlookers, on Medea’s side, but not yet aware of her murderous intentions. They sing a mixture of English and Greek. Suzie Miller’s chorus text sometime echoes the lines of the characters, hurled back at the actors. They sing in modern Greek “mitera, politeftis, erastis” (mother, politician, lover), three aspects to Medea’s identity. Todd and I have borrowed the INXS song Never Tear Us Apart to woven into the fleece – usually to ironic effect – as a sad contrast to the literal and metaphorical tearing apart of this family.

 

Some sound is heard from speakers: I recorded myself singing the three aforementioned Greek words on a single tone, then digitally slowed it down to 90 minutes (the approximate duration of the play). We let this recording play for the entire work, at times faded up or down, depending on what’s going on. Thus, all sound heard in the thing is made by a human voice either speaking or singing.

 

I have the chorus sing in Greek scales: aeolian phrygian and dorian. I don’t know how the Athenians preferred their choral tonalities, but for me, the nod to these three Pythagorean tonalities is a satisfying connection.

 

medea_chrsten

 

Damien Cassidy seems a rather bland and gentle Jason, despite his harsh treatment of Medea. I love the moment he is brought undone, pressing himself upon Medea when she calls him out and pushes him away, having given us the silent looks of tedium ad infinitum. Yeah, you know the looks, guys. It’s a brilliant interpretation of the moment, making Jason an absolute rotten fool rather than showing Medea simply as seductress.

 

 

Indeed, it is too easy to make Medea “mad” – it is far more difficult to try to understand or unpack her reality.

Todd McDonald

 

 

medea_milk

 

 

While Miller’s Medea is not new in the way Oedipus Doesn’t Live Here Anymore resonates with a new generation via their own (#MOFO) lingo and activity, in the hands of this creative team it’s a version that’s easily taken on board, especially if you’re new to ancient tales theatrically retold, and so beautifully interpreted by O’Leary that it’s certainly worth a look.

 

 

O’Leary, trapped within her sorceress’s circle of curiosities and melted wax, and her mind made up to save her sons from a fate worse than any death she can orchestrate, delivers an incredible performance that shouldn’t be missed. Medea finishes June 20.

 

 

 

 

Production pics by Dylan Evans

 

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