Music: Tim Cunningham and Rod Beale
Writer: Helen Mort
Director: James Beale
Reviewer: Jo Beggs
It’s been told many times, but Proper Job’s Medusa re-tells the Greek myth from a contemporary perspective which focuses on what, in some cases, has been merely her backstory. The beautiful and rather reckless sixteen-year-old Medusa has a bit of a reputation. One night at a party, things turn very nasty when her friends abandon her and she’s raped by Poseidon. The lack of sympathy from those around her and the outright victim shaming turn her from carefree teenager to predatory monster – that’s the one we all know, with the terrifying face and the snakes for hair, and the gaze that turns men to stone.
Unless you know the details of Ovid’s Metamorphoses there are subtleties in Helen Mort’s retelling that might pass you by. Even with some post-show research, this reviewer feels that she missed out on a lot of references and was, at times, pretty confused. Perseus, who finally severs the Gorgon’s head, is portrayed as an evangelical Texan, steeped in the ‘thou shalt not’ teachings of the Bible and afraid of his own human weakness. It’s not easy to work out why. A young couple, Alexander and Sylvia, bicker about their kids and his lack of engagement in family life. Without the background to all these characters it all seems rather disjointed.
That said, there’s plenty here that works well visually and through Tim Cunningham and Rod Beale’s hauntingly beautiful original score. Performances are strong, especially Elizabeth Harborne who is equally compelling as Medusa the broken young woman and the monstrous Medusa. Her captivating singing is more appropriate for Siren than Gorgon.
Medusa has amazing presence for a small scale studio show. A clever set by Laura Davies makes great use of steel mesh and mirrored cubes and a steel mesh backdrop. Cold, dramatic lighting by Kelli Zezulka gives the whole production an almost operatic feel. Unfortunately, much of the time the visuals rather outdo the narrative.
With the desire to make the story relevant and contemporary, technology references are overused – mobile phones, ipads and VR Goggles stand-in for detachment and a lack of human contact. The mobile phone, in particular, is becoming a rather tired symbol in contemporary theatre. After all, most of us see our devices as a means to greater communication rather than isolation. It’s a lazy shorthand.
All in all, Medusa is a pretty bleak production. The rape trial scene, played as a sort of drag cabaret/ game show, attempts to introduce a bit of black humour but it doesn’t quite hit the mark. There’s almost too many ideas here fighting for space, and at almost two hours with a drawn out interval that completely kills the momentum, Medusa needs to be shorter, sharper and more focused.
Runs until 16 November 2017 | Image: Contributed