If you’ve read Euripides’ Medea, you’ll know what Medea does at the end of the play. You’ll also know that after she does that thing, she rides in on a chariot pulled by dragons to deliver a giant final Fuck You to her adulterous husband Jason.
Classical theatre is wild; a sentiment Montague Basement, whose body of produced work exclusively consists of ancient adaptations, understands. For all that is to be said about transcendental values, timeless classics, and ageless great writers, making an adaptation relevant enough to warrant pursing beyond a quick wank is hard. Cutting dragons from your script is even harder. Montague Basement were able to achieve that, and produced a Medea well worth the price of entry.
As writer and director, Saro Lusty-Cavallari (Montague’s Procne and Tereus, SUDS’ Three Sisters) has deftly met the challenges of reworking ancient theatre. The Attic prince Jason is instead an awkward young salesman at Cellar Masters [Christian Byers]; Medea his dreamboat [Lulu Howes]. Lusty-Cavallari set out to challenge the ‘manic-pixie dreamgirl’ stereotype, a quest which entices creatives with little genre-awareness to produce a thoroughly sexist pseudo-critique of the very thing they’re indulging in. However, All About Medea understood the genre, and deconstructed it to its finer details. Medea, the would-be manic-pixie dreamgirl, becomes a woman of immense power, much like her sorceress original. Medea is far more than the sum of her parts: she is the most important character in the play. And, as she is a woman, this was refreshing to see.
Lusty-Cavallari’s script explores supremely interesting ideas out of what could have been a very mundane play. He translates key moments in Euripides’ text into memorable beats; employing silent scenes, emotive characters, and even transforming Medea’s most famous, most chilling monologue into a wordless stroll around a bassinet. The production was split into nine parts, each announced by a title-screen on the set’s television as another nod to a very common manic-pixie trope. The set itself showed careful consideration of the space, which, as a repurposed apartment, seems perfect for the identical setting of the production. Production value was well beyond what is expected of an independent company’s Fringe show.
Performances were essentially flawless. Byers and Howes executed their roles well. They have a good chemistry as performers; necessary in a play where both actors spend majority of their time on set at least partially naked. Without their confidence as performers, the play’s nude scenes would have been just as uncomfortable for the audience, but in a far less productive way. Lulu Howes in particular is to be commended: on opening night she and Byers collided in a scene change. Following a short break, she re-emerged and finished the play with no regard to a serious nose injury. Her dedication was visible in her performance, and the production was better for it.
If one was to nit-pick, and take the play out of the vacuum of the Old 505, it can be argued that Sydney has seen a great deal of feminist retellings of classical texts. However, Montague Basement’s production is handled well enough to overcome this bias. All About Medea is one of the most professional and interesting independent pieces to come out of University of Sydney alumni for a long time, and it is a standout in a very crowded, very high-quality Fringe season.
All About Medea plays at the Old 505 Theatre in Surry Hills until the 19th of September. For more information, and for tickets, go to http://www.montaguebasement.com/all-about-medea/