Medea, Actors of Dionysus, Rose Theatre, Kingston, November 2013Posted on 14 November 2013
At the end of this play, Helios the sun god comes to Medea’s rescue, carrying her through the air in a chariot from Corinth to Athens. This deus ex machina pulls her out from certain death in a city where her sorcery has killed its king and his only daughter, destroyed her ex-husband Jason’s plans for the future, and where she has finally murdered her own children. How to represent this in the theatre?
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The Actors of Dionysus solve this problem by incorporating aerial gymnastics into their production. This has the advantage of making the ending seem perfectly natural, and provides a choreographic outlet to express the agony engendered by a contest between the civilised world of Jason, ruled by cold calculation, and the barbarian world of Medea, ruled by instinct and feeling. Jason has pushed her beyond a tipping point without knowing what he’s doing, and Tamsin Shasha gives a hugely sympathetic portrayal of Medea.
Indeed Euripides surely intends us to feel sympathy with the natural world of emotions that Medea represents, albeit to excess, in contrast to the unscrupulous want of feeling embodied by Jason, and an excellent essay in the programme by David Stuttard places this tragedy in its historical context. He has also adapted this version of Medea from the original Greek, and is editing a volume on the play that will be published 6 months hence by Bloomsbury Press.
This production involves the largest creative team that AOD has ever had, and includes not just extraordinary aerial choreography but a sound world of great emotional depth. The songs are from Greece, a Greek dialect in southern Italy, Corsica, and Georgia, the land from where Medea comes. The unusual harmonies evoke emotional responses and highlight the fact that Medea’s sound-world is different from Jason’s.
Direction is by Abigail Anderson, with aerial choreography by Jami Quarrell, and the ability of the performers, particularly Tamsin Shasha, to speak clearly while suspended in various positions, upright, sideways and upside down at various levels was a marvel to behold. The extreme emotions of Euripides’ drama can well sustain such an extreme staging, and the red wall at the back seemed like a floor turned through 90 degrees as Medea appeared to stand and to lie on her back on it in a crouched foetus-like position. Here was a superb expression of emotional agony.
Fine support for Ms Shasha from the other actors including Ewan Downie as a naively secure Jason, along with Bethan Clark, Dickon Savage, and Natalia Campbell with her lovely singing voice. Congratulations to the company for putting on such excellent theatre, and a sublime ending. After Medea has been raised to the heights by the power of Apollo she descends down a path of red fabric held by the chorus, alighting beyond the stage and exiting through the audience. Wonderful stuff.
Performances at Kingston continue until November 15 — for details click here.