What lengths would you go to to survive in a world stacked against you as a woman? That lets greedy men go about unchained?
Although Medea, Euripides’ brutal classical Greek play, is little-known among young people, it is one worth experiencing. By recontextualising the original (translated by Alastair Elliot) in the 1950s, SUDS director Adele Beaumont and producer Jennifer Shin explore the narrative’s gender roles, xenophobia, vengeance and social isolation against the backdrop of a world recovering from World War II, wherein women were forced into submissive domestic roles.
As you walk into the Cellar Theatre space, you are presented with a picturesque 1950s Australian suburban front yard. There are white picket fences and radio static; Bobby Vinton’s Blue Velvet rings through the peaceful scene. That is, until we are introduced to Medea. The Nurse, smoothly played by Daisy Semmler, introduces us to the unstable world of Corinth, where Jason and Medea were exiled but later married and conceived two children (adorably played by Claire Hwang and Lily McGuinness). After reclaiming a level of respectability, Jason abandons Medea to remarry the daughter of King Creon in order to advance in society. What follows is the high-stakes tale of Medea, a formidable yet flawed woman, going to extremes to survive in the face of patriarchal social pressures.
Paris Bell and Thomas Hennessey’s set design meticulously recreates the 1950s Australian suburban backyard with the white picket fence, classic slated windows and a blue, Australian sky full of angelic clouds. This is complemented by Nikki Eghlimi’s naturalistic summer night lighting design, Rose Fitz’s conservative yet classy 1950s costume design, and Harry Peters and George Campbell’s iconic cicada-filled soundscape. Interwoven are intoxicating, dream-like 1950s music and audio distortions, accentuating the nightmarish qualities of this seemingly blissful summer dream. Eghlimi’s mystical neon lighting design accentuates the chorus’s surreal physical theatre moments (solemnly played by Emily Reynolds, Mary Franklin, Ruby Adler, and choreographed by Georgie Eggleton). The stark contrast between the story’s violence and the peaceful suburbia created by the production’s design poignantly highlights the insidious and brutally silent reality of domestic violence.
Though the beginning of the play lacks some energy and pace, it accelerates to a startling end. Madhullikaa Singh brilliantly captures the anger, frustration, determination, and emotional heartbreak of Medea, while Roman Koteczky eloquently plays the playboy father Jason, with a controlled comedic delivery of certain lines. The band of minor yet memorable characters, including Joshua Mortimer’s rendition of the introspective yet naïve tutor, and Danny Yazdani’s humorous and lovable portrayal of Aegeus, complement the play’s dark mood.
Alexander Chu’s majestic voice and emotional dynamism as King Creon beautifully capture his character’s regal confidence and hidden cowardice. In all, the chorus solemnly convey the horror of Medea’s situation through their reactions, like voyeurs reflecting society’s superficial sympathy for women under the patriarchy. At the start, I found it alienating and discomforting to witness women be so superficially sympathetic towards other womens’ suffering. However, by the end, their anger elevates the play’s energy to a height that helps drive its message home.
Afterwards, as I ponder this play, I can somewhat understand why an individual, especially a woman, would go to such violent lengths, especially when they must struggle for basic human rights. However, the play problematises the struggle for vengeance, leaving it up to the viewer to come to their own conclusion. And you might be thinking, “What lengths?” Well that’s something you’ll have to discover by watching this show.
Medea runs until 26 March, 2022. Tickets are available online now.