Medusa – Pleasance Theatre, London

Devisers: Fusion Theatre

Director: Katie Merritt

Reviewer: Scott Matthewman

The legend of Medusa is well-known. Or at least, parts of it are: most notably that she was a Gorgon with snakes for hair, and anybody who looked upon her face would turn to stone.

Beyond that, things get a little fuzzy. Like all good stories, it improved with age: Medusa, sister to Gorgons Stheno and Euryale, is mortal despite her siblings’ immortality – hence why Perseus was able to kill her.  And in a later form as described by the Roman poet Ovid, Medusa started as a beautiful maiden, her Gorgon form inflicted upon her as punishment after she is raped by Poseidon in Athena’s temple.

Theatre collective Fusion Theatre takes this form of the myth as it’s jumping off point for a devised piece that seeks to redraw the Medusa myth, not least to redeem the woman who would be punished for being the victim of a man’s assault.

Taking it in turns to take the central role of Medusa, the cast’s six women (plus Samy Elkhatib’s Perseus) also act as a literal Greek chorus, narrating the events both of mythology and the theatrical reconstruction of the same.

At times, too, they come together – Poseidon personified as a crashing wave, for instance. And as we find ourselves inside Medusa’s own mind, the multinational cast supplement the English narration with simultaneous translation, in languages from French and Italian to Korean. It helps underscore how Medusa’s story – finding herself and her life weaponised as a result of somebody else’s actions.

The result is a portrait of a sad and lonely figure – someone who, after Athena’s curse, is fated to be alone with only the stone statues of former mortals to keep company. It’s an arresting vision, and one that makes Medusa’s final decision – to accept her fate at Perseus’ hand – to feel as if it is made with absolute agency.

As feminist retellings go, that’s a successful achievement.

Continues until 15 November 2019 | Image: Contributed

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