Based on the original Greek tragedy by Euripides, Medea tells the blood-soaked tale of the eponymous princess of Colchis, who marries the hero Jason following their successful capture of the mythical Golden Fleece. However, things turn ugly when Jason leaves Medea for Creusa, daughter of King Creon of Corinth. Enraged by her husband’s betrayal, Medea sets out on a murderous path to annihilate everything Jason holds dear. Just days before the first run, Impact caught up with director Emma Fearon, producer Emily Wong and cast members Jazmine Greenaway, William Tillett and Hannah Yates.
For Fearon, currently studying for an MA in Classical Literature, finding a chance to produce an ancient Greek tragedy was only ever a matter of time. “I always wanted to put on a Greek production. Working on Oedipus at Lakeside Arts last year [with director Martin Berry] gave me the confidence to go ahead and do so.
Of course, Classical mythology, with its colourful array of dashing heroes, vengeful monarchs and hideous monsters, is a profoundly appealing genre to dramatists looking to stage something as captivating as it is relevant. “I loved Greek myth and legend as a kid,” explains Wong, “but the fact that we are putting a modern twist on such a classic play is what really caught my interest.” The contemporary relevance of so raw a story is something with which the team have aimed to get to grips ever since they realised the potential power of Euripides’s characters.
“I was very surprised by Medea,” admits Fearon. “It often reads like a contemporary play, so much so that I would say that it’s actually more well-rounded and multi-dimensional than many modern productions.”
The power of the script, long-winded though it may seem on paper, is something that has been thoroughly brought out during the rehearsal process. “The monologues can be quite meaty chunks of text,” Greenaway, who plays the title character, points out. “Even now, when I go over the lines, I still find extra dimensions and extra layers to Medea’s intentions.”
Naturally, the rehearsal process has had to take into account the actors’ unfamiliarity with Greek theatre, as well as the difference in methods of performance between now and the play’s first run in 431 BC. “It has been an intensely creative rehearsal process and a big learning curve at the same time,” notes Greenaway.
Yates, whose Chorus position means that she will also be taking on the roles of King Creon, Aegeus and Jason’s ill-fated children, very much agrees. “The rehearsals have been really interesting. We started off with a lot of physical theatre, which was very intense, especially over such a short period of time.”
With a nod to the Chorus aspect of the play, in which several cast members act as one spoken entity as well as playing individual characters, she adds: “It can be hard at times to combine the non-naturalistic aspects of Greek theatre with the need to create realistic characters.” The actors face the unique hurdle of balancing both their symbolic Chorus roles and the more grittily human figures in the story.
The challenges of staging a play like Medea extend to the technical side as well. Indeed it is through the use of an unconventional piece of staging that Fearon and Wong aim to get past one of the most significant problems: the lack of child actors in a production heavily centred on the fate of the younger characters. “We are setting it in a children’s playroom,” Fearon explains, alluding to the garishly coloured square tiles which cover the stage. “This acts as a constant reminder that there are children in this story.”
Tillett, who plays the treacherous yet doomed Jason, discusses the effectiveness of the staging. “A lot of Jason’s monologues are written in a very straight, plain way. Speaking them whilst stood in the bizarre setting of a children’s playroom adds a disturbing element to the play.”
Whilst this may be Tillett’s first show at the NNT, it is certainly not his first foray into Greek theatre. “Playing Creon [in a Sixth Form production of Antigone by Sophocles] beforehand was useful for getting into the role of Jason this time around. They’re similar male roles: both very stubborn and unmoving, which ultimately leads to their demise.”
Indeed the controversial side of the play’s characters is something the team are keen to impress upon the audience. “I want to see how the audience will react to Medea herself,” explains Wong, “especially as most people tend to start the play with some sympathy for her.”
Medea’s tortured descent into a bitter rage against Jason and his new family somewhat muddies the natural allegiance of audience members. Further still, despite traditional Greek theatre portraying most deaths off-stage, this production is not shying from up-front depictions of vengeful murder. “We’re definitely going for the shock factor with the deaths,” chuckles Greenaway.
What remains most important, however, is that the team impress upon viewers the sheer value of Greek drama itself. “I want to encourage people to like Classical theatre and not to feel as though it’s just a regimented set of people in masks, standing still and reading monologues,” Fearon asserts. “Classical theatre can be accessible, and hopefully by performing to students, we’ll encourage people to want to see more of it.”
Medea was on at the Nottingham New Theatre 15-18 November.
Upcoming show this week – The Doll’s House from 20-25th of November
Play poster courtesy of Nottingham New Theatre.
Rehearsal images courtesy of Zoe Robinson.