Writer and Director: Julia Pascal
Filmed at the Finborough Theatre in May 2019, Blueprint Medea relocates Euripides’ tragic tale of lust, sorcery and murder to modern day London, recasting the warrior Queen as a Kurdish asylum seeker looking for a new life as a cleaner in London. Available on the Official London Theatre YouTube Channel, Julia Pascal’s 80-minute drama is an ambitious and accomplished take on one of the great Greek tragedies.
Based in 2006 and 2016, Medea flees war-torn Kurdistan and arrives in London on a fake passport hoping to find freedom. Instead she finds Jason, a trainee taxi driver working-out in the gym where she scrubs floors after midnight. Quickly swept up in each other, within a year their twin sons are born but Jason’s father wants him to marry within the Iraqi community leaving Medea out in the cold.
This archive recording has a fixed-point camera and captures the entire performance in a single shot, using zoom to occasionally focus in on the actors to give a closer image of the more intimate scenes. Blueprint Medea takes a while to get going and as the narrative rapidly switches between the two eras, it feels a little stagey, the camera adding an additional barrier to the story.
But persist, because Pascal’s play starts to find its rhythm as Medea and Jason finally meet, developing a momentum in their relationship that plays with the audience’s expectations of this familiar tale. The couple’s conversations as their tentative affection for one another grows and they become a genuinely happy unit are well written, while the scene between Jason and his father is particularly convincing as the men contend over their national and social heritage, taking in duty, fear of cultural betrayal, diluting the bloodline, violence and a mutual resentment that can only resolve itself in acquiescence to the senior man’s demands.
Yet Pascal’s drama has a stilted quality that fails to marry the grandeur of the flashback scenes in which Medea’s own lyricism emerges from the big themes of war, identity and loss, with the casual modernity of the London sections. Time seems to pass too quickly, giving the audience very little time to invest in the characters and their relationships – a problem of empathy for Medea in particular – and the use of momentary blackout between scenes is too short for the actors to properly rearrange, pulling the viewer out of the story.
As Medea Ruth D’Silva has a glacial quality and despite the horrors she has experienced in her native land, her emotions remain in check. Even her passionate love for Jason seems restrained, although D’Silva builds the notion of betrayal and vengeance well, but perhaps not with a level of psychosis that would lead her to infanticide. The smattering of fractured English Medea knows hardly seems to improve however, which across several years in London and daily interactions with a native speaker, would certainly have altered, making her feel less like the ‘outsider’ she believes herself to be.
Max Rinehart’s Jason known as “J” has a more interesting trajectory. Originally called Mohammed and with Iraqi heritage, he is a London boy learning The Knowledge and dismissive or uninterested in the origins of his family. Living for now in a ‘Young God’ t-shirt, Jason learns the value of legacy as the story unfolds, while Rinehart couches his eventual betrayal of Medea in the thoughtless self-sufficiency the character displays from the start. So, when he tells her “She is my tribe… you are an outsider” the audience understands the journey this character has taken.
“Love is a western invention” Jason’s father (Tiran Aakel) claims and his cynicism about marriage and the West makes it easy for characters to dismiss the humanity of those beyond their own set. Pascal’s play does skip around a little and the political implications of the Kurdistan and theTurkish angle isn’t fully explored, but Blueprint Medea does ask big questions about statelessness and the ways in which religious, national and cultural narratives of identity should and do shape our lives.
Available here to stream until 2 September 2020