“If you’re going to play Medea, then you really have to go for it” - Neil Bartlett on Medea: Written in Rage
This month a reimagining of the Greek myth, Medea: Written in Rage, comes to The REP. Neil Bartlett, translator and director, tells us more about the production.
Tell us about the story of Medea and this new version
The story of Medea is one of the great classic stories - she is a woman who embodies some of our darkest fears about how love and violence can be connected, and ever since she was first written about by the Ancient Greeks she has constantly been re-invented - in plays, in operas and in films. She's a woman who has often been judged to be a monster, but in Jean René Lemoine's new version she gets to speak for herself and tell her own story.
It's a one-person show, and the twist is that this time Medea is being played by a man - or rather, by an extraordinary solo performer who has the skill to do away with gender and make you see this famous story in a whole new way.
What drew you to working on this particular version of Medea?
Francois Testory is an extraordinary performer, a true creature of the theatre, with an incredible body and an even more incredible voice. When he gave me Jean Rene's text to read I was hooked at once.
This new Medea is an incredible mix of the ancient and the modern; one minute she is speaking pure tragic poetry, the next minute she is right down in the gutter. One minute she is a tragic heroine or operatic diva, the next she is like some Tennessee Williams heroine, all pills and alcohol - and then suddenly she will change into some desperate, anonymous woman from a refugee camp that you might have seen on the news. She has all the grandeur and rage of Greek myth, but at the same time she seems very real. I was particularly excited by the idea that a man could dare to play this great iconic female role.
The production focuses strongly on issues around exile and alienation as Medea is cast as the ultimate outsider, a stranger in a foreign land. Tell us more.
Medea is one of the great outsiders. She comes from a strange land, she marries and tries to fit into her new husband's culture - a culture which treats her as some kind of fabulous, fascinating exotic - and even tries to adapt and lessen herself so as to fit in. But then she discovers she was wasting her time - the world is always going to treat her as an outsider, a pariah, an outcast.
Tell us about the creative team.
Medea's creative team includes several highly respected artists in theatre, fashion and music including François Testory, Mr Pearl and Philippe Fontez.
Francois is somebody who really knows how to create indelible images on stage - he worked for a long time with one of the greatest of all theatre image-makers, Lindsay Kemp, and he not only has an incredible body (he trained as a classical dancer) but also has a real understanding of how costume, make-up, music, lights and gesture can all work together to create a picture.
Mr Pearl is one of the great costume-makers - he's worked with Leigh Bowery, Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. We have been looking at Kabuki costumes from the classical theatre of Japan and at the clothes worn by the great operatic divas like Maria Callas - the costume is going to be something huge.
Philippe Fontez has created the electronic score that is played live during the show. The sound-score will be the set, in a way. Medea comes from the desert, she travels across oceans, she summons up very dark forces of rage and revenge - so the sound will have to have a very epic feel to it. Philippe is also going to be mixing in fragments of opera - to get that diva feeling - and probably some trashy 70's pop music as well, to give that lurid, b-movie-goddess quality that this telling of the story also needs sometimes.
What can audiences expect from Testory's solo performance on stage?
They can expect a lot of anger, a LOT of frock, and some really personal confrontation of the darker parts of this story. If you're going to play Medea, then you have to really go for it.
Medea: Written in Rage plays at The REP 17 - 18 November.