This adaptation of Euripides’ classic by the reinvented Nash Theatre at the old Hamilton town hall is directed by Malcolm Steele. Though no credit is given in the program, Steele’s notes suggest he was also the author of the adaptation. In its modern dress the dialogue flows well and is well orchestrated.
For those unfamiliar with the original, Medea, a foreigner to Corinth, has defied her father and arranged a murder for Jason’s sake, married him and had two sons. To further his political ambitions, Jason forsakes her to marry Glauce, daughter of Creon the ruler Corinth. Creon plans to banish Medea to prevent her jealousy causing her to revenge herself on Jason by injuring their children. She begs Creon for one day’s grace, which he grants and in which she kills Glauce with a poisoned gown and crown and coincidentally Creon, who embraces his dying daughter. Convinced her children will now be killed in revenge for her deeds, she kills them herself before fleeing to Athens and the promised protection of its ruler, Ageus.
Euripides explores the darkest reaches of the female psyche . Medea is more than a woman scorned, she is betrayed at her centre, as a woman, wife, lover and mother.
Steele explains the absence in the adaptation of Euripides’ major male character, Jason, in these terms: “I wanted to explore the issue of women in the production. This is why the role of Jason has been transformed into that of the other woman, Glauce.”
It might have been a legitimate endeavour in terms of feminism, but it fails as drama. The original’s confrontational scene between Jason and Medea is critical to her decisions and their tragic consequences. The transformed scene between Medea (Davina Fowlie) and Glauce (Anke Willems) is betrayal second-hand and lacks the power to drive Medea to the depths she reaches.
As honest in its endeavours as the production is, it fails to realise its potential in key areas.
Dressed up-market modern chic, the production’s advertised promises of a blend of realism, stylised performance and traditional Greek Theatre are impossible to deliver in the restrictions imposed by the shallow set, its oversized table, a narrow proscenium and a space with hollow acoustics accentuated by an impossible selection of footwear (which also impacts on some actors’ movement). The overstated rear wall with its montage of initials and unsympathetic rendering of Jason & Sons denies access to the advantage of depth the stage has.
Confronted with these difficulties, and aggravated by said footwear, the choreography, apart from isolated sequences, becomes stilted and repetitive and the promised styles head-butted rather than blending.
Of the actors only Andrew McLean (Creon, Ageus and a brief opening appearance as Jason) overcomes the hurdles and realised the promises. He is flexible, fluid and believable in all characters. Ms Fowlie is striking , but despite the obvious sincerity of the attempt, lacks the vocal and physical fluidity and range necessary to explore fully the rises and falls of Medea’s torments. The same might be said of Ms Willems, but as both tormentor and source of torment her task is made more difficult. Limited space and vocal skills restrict Jess Hurley and Hanna Houben as the Women of Corinth. Of the two, Ms Hurley proved more effective as a Chorus commentator.
Despite these observations, Nash is to be commended for its willingness to experiment.