DramaNorth East & YorkshireReview

Medusa – Lawrence Batley Theatre, Huddersfield

Producers: Chloë Whitehead and Alexander Palmer with Proper Job Theatre Company

Artistic Director: James Beale

Writer: Helen Mort

Reviewer: Ruth Jepson

In the light of the Harvey Weinstein revelations this month, Proper Job Theatre Company’s production of Medusa is a timely contribution to the #metoo conversation. With a mix of monologue, duologue, live music, and singing, five actors tell a modern dystopian version of the Greek myth.

The show is an uncomfortable blend of comedic satire and intense seriousness, with a hefty dose of social commentary – uncomfortable in that it is relatable and reflective of the world we live in. Medusa’s account of her rape is juxtaposed with people reading a blog post of a party prank turned sexual attack. Poseidon’s trial becomes a circus, with clowning drag and oppressive canned laughter underlining the ridiculous victim blaming questions of the prosecution. Even pushed to the absurd, however, the sensitive subject matter is dealt with respectfully, at least in Act One. Elizabeth Harborne is heartbreaking in her portrayal of Medusa, humanising the monster of legend. Her operatic singing voice is hauntingly melodic, resonating far past the final curtain. Rick Ferguson’s Poseidon is a fabulous counterpoint to Harborne, a sleazy misogynist who masks his lecherous crimes behind a veneer of innocence. Act One could stand alone as a tight piece of theatre in its own right. 

Unfortunately, in Act Two everything comes a bit unstuck and muddled. The theme evolves from rape culture to internet pornography and virtual reality and Christian extremism and suddenly there are too many strands to keep track of. It is clear that writer Helen Mort is making an important point about how we blame victims and protect abusers, but by suddenly focusing more on the men, especially Perseus, than Medusa herself, the show is ultimately not as revelatory as Act 1 promises – once again, a woman’s account is largely ignored, and every female character is once more simply a mother or a whore. This may be the point, but if so it is not clear.

Like it’s titular inspiration, Medusa manages to be both beautiful and ugly, Kelli Zezulka’s soft lighting at turns complimented and contrasted by Tim Cunningham’s beautiful music and Martyn Wilson’s oft harsh projections. There isn’t a weak link on stage, and the show must be recommended simply for its admirable concept and excellent execution, even if the telling is ultimately flawed. In the light of recent events, even a problematic telling is better than keeping quiet.

Reviewed on 17 October 2017 | Image: Contributed

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