Brett Bailey's medEia at the Baxter TheatreClifford Graham
Clifford Graham: Hell hath no fury like a women scorned … Jonathan Shapiro should see this piece!
While the actual details of the Medea and Jason myth are a little sketchy, here is a link to a brief synopsis courtesy of that all-knowing oracle Wikipedia based on the tragedy written by Euripides.
Brett Bailey has for his “pop-tragedy” staging of this story, used the text developed by Oscar van Woensel. The adaptation resulting in a mesmerising and captivating rhythmic concert like presentation. Smoke imbued with incense fills the stage. Pop concert lighting enhances the visual facets. The chorus essential to any Greek tragedy are a trio of backing singers, who, rather than supporting any sung melodies, relate the intricate story, moving to complex rhythms beaten out by Frank Paco from an onstage drum kit. A ritual priest moves about the stage spreading an incensed smoke around an altar on which Medea, as priestess, is seated. This opening sets the scene as Jason, (James MacGregor) looking for all the world like a hard rock front-man, and representative of the would-be conquerors and colonisers, dominates the stage. Throughout, Van Woensel’s text is punctuated with lyrics from contemporary pop and rock songs by bands such as Radiohead, Cold Play and singer Gloria Gaynor.
This is the work’s second incarnation, the first was staged in 2005 in an abandoned film set on the Spier Estate, as a site specific promenade piece. This interpretation (2012) is edgy, provocative and has been given an urban edge. I first saw medEia in its final stages of rehearsal just a few weeks ago. On that occasion, there was less smoke and no lighting. The addition of lighting, and the few tweaks that have happened since, still leave me convinced that while the visual and musical facets do provide a wow factor, the text is what makes this work special.
Dare I use the word Taratinoesque? Because that is what it is. Time frames are mixed to keep the observer wondering. Traditional start, middle and end do not apply here. medEia starts at the end and the middle finds its way into the plot very subtly. It’s a cleverly woven script and with the staged rhythmically spoken passages, accompanied by Frank Paco’s drumming, I find myself mesmerised by this living, breathing work of performance art.
As chorus, Indalo Stofile, Mbali Kgosidintsi and Namhla Tshuka form an energetic band of do-wop girls, who while never breaking into song, articulate the tragic tale (at times tongue in cheek) with conviction. I’m left wondering where they get the energy to keep moving so well, and for so long? Faniswa Yisa as Medea delivers an excellent portrayal of the betrayed princess of Colchis. William Congreve must have had this tale in mind when he wrote The Mourning Bride (1697) “Hell hath no fury like a women scorned”.
As Jason, James MacGregor is a commanding presence. Apollo Ntshoko, as the Ritual Priest who doubles up as King Pelias and later King Creon, makes for a wonderful multi-cameo presence. His satirical King Pelias is a somewhat disturbing presence, Jonathan Shapiro should see this piece! In all these inspired performances, for me Frank Paco’s drumming makes medEia come to life. I am captured by his rhythms. The balanced beauty of his drumming, never too loud or brash, will keep medEia going around in my head for a long time to come.
Baxter Theatre 12 to 15 September
021 674 4863
083 948 9115
Baxter Theatre Centre, Cape Town Western Cape South Africa