“Terrible things breed in broken hearts”
By Tom Barry
One of the most ambitious plays staged by York DramaSoc in recent years, Medea asks a great deal of its actors and its audience, and crafts a lucid, provocative performance that benefits from cohesive vision and a cast clearly committed to their parts.
The tale of a woman who, enraged by a betrayal that strikes her heart, performs an act more obscene and calculated than any decent person could stomach, was always going to be a harrowing experience. In a recent iteration by Ben Power, the most tragic of greek tragedies is removed from its original setting, its cultural context, and reformed as a prism through which to view and maybe even grasp what drives parents, mothers and fathers, to murder their own blood in pursuit of their own vendetta. In some respects this script falls short, imitating the style and lyricism of epic verse, but without keeping to it sufficiently to allow the mind to settle. This discordance may well be intentional, designed to keep an audience engaged with the characters’ individual plights. Events and, in particular, emotional states shift unnaturally quickly, and the cast must race to keep up with its demands.
Medea is troubled overall by an internal conflict of theatrical styles; some elements, such as the fluid and feral Greek chorus and the kaleidoscopic lighting, are consistently interesting. The other characters conduct themselves with almost self-defeating naturalism; hysteria, terror and grief collide, one after the other, sometimes with such force and extremity that it is impossible to understand what is being said or the intricacy of an onstage relation. Despite this, the production gels remarkably well, and there was never a point at which I sensed a lull in the cast’s control of proceedings.
Medea’s greatest success is that it conveys the lack of ethical surety in all the character’s dealings
The clashing egos of the piece deserve special mention, Kate Lansdale’s Medea and Jacob Seldon’s Jason, for maintaining a ferocious intensity throughout. Medea’s greatest success is that it conveys the lack of ethical surety in all the character’s dealings: I began sympathising with Jason, whilst Medea dwells in her fury and scorn. But their interactions teeter on the edge of a knife, and before long all that is certain is that neither is in the right (if there is any ‘right’ to be had by anyone). In a much shorter space of time, this aching lack of any moral foundation which lay at the heart of Euripides’ play is reproduced here with sensitivity and subtlety.
The suspension of disbelief asked of the audience throughout is high and jarring, but never so severe to irreparably detract from the crux of the piece. In fact, the utilisation of puppetry, which risked being the most distracting thing of all, is used sparingly and convincingly enough that it quickly becomes seamless with the action. When the play reaches its climax (as it is foretold to at the very beginning) there is no closure, no reprehension or deus ex machina handing justice down from on high. The performance is as bleakly affecting from start to finish, and well-suited to the intimacy of the space. Medea is in all aspects of a high quality, and if anything I would have enjoyed more time to see the characters breath, to hear their perspectives and comprehend their motives (if at all possible when the themes are so dark).
Medea by Euripides, in a version by Ben Power, is being performed at the Drama Barn this weekend on the 26th and 27th of November at 7:30pm. Tickets are available on the door and online (yusu.org/groups/drama-society-6cac/events/dramasoc-presents-medea-week-9)