Seeing work at Brighton Open Air Theatre (BOAT) is a treat because you have that unusual experience of sharing the same sky with the players. If it’s raining in Brighton, it's also raining in Corinth, or Venice or wherever the play is set. This brings an instant feeling of intimacy and participation to the spectacle.
An enjoyable show that reflects the dedication of the cast and a sensitivity to the original performance context.
In coming to Northbrook MET’s Medea, I was looking forward to a play that took me from day to night, literally and thematically. For those unfamiliar with Euripides’ tragedy, Medea is a 5th Century BCE drama whose eponymous character has been cast aside by her husband, Jason, who is himself set to remarry into royalty for the sake of status. Such a slight Medea will not tolerate, leading to terrible and irrational acts of vengeance. Day to night indeed.
Northbrook MET bills this version as a ‘contemporary retelling’, though with the production’s classical choreography, ritualistic costume and the BOAT itself imitating a classical theatre space, the contemporary feels further away than the distant past. The audience are peppered around this 'theatron' and throughout seem attentive and responsive to both play and players. Inevitably, the weight of speech and action falls to the character of Medea, ably played by Georgina Bean. Bean’s canorous voice can command an open air space, and her contained (though occasionally static) movements reflect Medea’s grace and terrifying self-control.
All the cast have their moments and there is a sensible variety of the broadly comic, the finger-waggingly sage and the sombrely ritualistic. This said, there are times when vocal performances do not contend with the space, and characters can remain too fixed and unsure of their function as Medea rages, explains or persuades. The production as a whole, however, benefits from some sharp and purposeful choreography, credit to director Denise Evans. In one particularly effective moment, Medea and Jason argue as the chorus moves towards them as one, menacing, pulsating, phalanx almost baring down on the characters.
This is an enjoyable show that reflects the dedication of the cast and a sensitivity to the original performance context. The text translation choice, of Walton’s student edition, was understandable, though came with disadvantages as poetry was sometimes sacrificed for blank clarity. I also felt there was a missed opportunity in cast make-up. Whilst the female members were covered in an otherworldly sheen, the men by contrast looked prosaic, making them both less discernible and inconsistent as a chorus. Considering unity was reflected in the cast's striking black attire, more could have been done here.
A special moment came as the play ended and night was with us. Medea made her exit though the theatron, slowly climbing its layers. As she reached the top, I caught a glimpse of her in silhouette and, just above her head, Venus was glinting. An accident? Certainly. But what better symbol could there be for the character’s uncertain future and unerring conviction? And what better example of the benefits of sharing the same sky?