Writer: Helen Mort
Director: James Beale
Reviewer: Dawn Smallwood
Proper Job Theatre Company and Halifax’s Chapel Arts Centre, in partnership, are bringing Medusa on tour during autumn 2017 including a stop at Leeds’ Carriageworks Theatre. Medusa forms the second part of a trilogy of plays about mythical monsters. Following the premiere of Nosferatu in 2015 it is only fitting for Medusa to follow on. This contemporary production could not come at a more appropriate time with recent media reports about high profile allegations of inappropriate behaviour.
Helen Mort adapts the myth of a Greek monster, is known to have snakes in her hair and her petrifaction stare, into a play that explores relevant issues which people then and today would rather not openly discuss. Medusa (Elizabeth Harborne) is condemned for her rape that happened in the Temple of Athena by the God of the sea, Poseidon (Rick Ferguson). Mort wants to share with the audience how Medusa is viewed either as a perpetrator (monster) or a victim.
Medusa is retold well, in a modern setting with hi-tech cues and visuals, in the first act by each character introducing themselves one by one. Laura Davies’ modern staging compliments well with Kelli Zezulka’s lighting and Martyn Wilson’s projection. The audience is given an opportunity to hear how Poseidon was “justifying his actions” to what he had done; that he was “seduced” by Medusa and begged “forgiveness” for his hands. This is backed by the court of justice, during the rape trial, who paints Medusa as a seducer. “Don’t look at me” are the words echoed which with no proof acquits Poseidon and Medusa is left with the blame and shame which she melancholy chants at the end.
The second act explores Medusa’s “monster” side when she seeks revenge after being raped and condemned, as it appears, in tricking clients into prostitution. It also delves deeper for men, from a religious perspective, when the evangelist (Tim Cunningham) prophetically preaches about men not being “free” and are “slaves to desire”. Seduction by women is preached with a biblical account of Adam and Eve to internet pornography and adult channels in the 21st Century. The interpretation and retelling of the myth in this act could perhaps be a bit more organised, with some prompts and clues. It takes a considerable amount of time in the act to clearly identify and define the issues Mort is wishing to address and crucially how relevant they are today. Parallels are drawn to reports of perpetrators being protected in society and yet condemning the victims at the same time, how women, in general, are viewed traditionally and in society today, and abuse of power and trust that has been shown particularly by those in higher ranks.
Mort and Beale have created an excellent adaptation of Medusa and the five-person cast, some doubling up as musicians and singers, entertains the audience in the retelling, reflectively and sensitively, in text and song which is set to Tim Cunningham’s haunting but beautiful music. This is a tale that is just as relevant now than it was in the ancient times. The audience is encouraged to draw conclusions from what is retold and shared from a production well done. The themes and issues undoubtedly are uncomfortable, but keeping such issues silent today is not the way forward as reporting of such is now encouraged.
Reviewed on 31 October 2017 | Image: Contributed