Georgie Proctor gets a taste of 1TC’s antidote to Christmas cheer.
Directors Katie Sawyer and Hannah Sanderson have approached the Classical tragedy of Euripides’ Medea with an emphasis on the genre’s modern-day reverberations; First Theatre Company have definitely taken an exciting and challenging approach. Detailing the revenge of the tragic hero Medea after her husband Jason leaves her, Medea kills Jason’s new wife and her two children: you could say this is a contender for the Christmas-humbug theatre-goers of Durham. Whilst at times the cast may have succumbed to an overstated grief, failing to produce the extreme cathartic effect in the audience that this story needs, the plotting of the tragic fate of Medea and the frenzy of her fall is a striking one.
With the venue of the Assembly Rooms Theatre, the directors were able to make use of dual levels in staging; they made effective choices in blocking which were particularly crucial to the presentation of the chorus as both a physical and emotional bridge between the audience and Medea. In the director’s note, emphasis is put on alienating Medea as the migrant character through ‘the use of levels and costume’, and on the most part the chorus played a good role in achieving this. Represented as the general everyman and dressed in suits reminiscent of the commonplace commuter, the chorus both judge Medea with a generalized pity and condemn her. This is sometimes confusing as at times they also bridge this gap, communicating with her and being complicit with her thoughts. Whilst these moments of direct communication were touching in the brief relief of companionship they offer Medea, the chorus having to turn their backs on the audience to do this, which is problematic. That said, on the whole I enjoyed those moments of connection through the expansion of the traditional role of the chorus.
Katie Cervanak, as Medea, commanded the stage with a striking independence that the audience had no choice but to admire. The shifting dynamic she created, between assertive presence dominating other characters and craftsmanship in moments of appealing to the audience’s sympathies, were strikingly convincing; we had no choice but to pity her fate. Ginny Leigh’s performance as Nurse complemented Medea effectively; she portrayed convincing moments of inevitability and regret even through long lines of exposition. I did feel however that all the characters of the story aside from Medea (and discounting the role of chorus as bridging onlookers) required more attention to characterization. Both Jason, played by Ted Goodman, and Creon, played by Tevin De Muendo, would have benefitted from a more commanding presence on stage as better befits their positions of authority. Goodman also needed more shift in emotional direction at the death of his children, where some lines were thrown away, and there was perhaps not enough contrast in pace.
The tech and lighting team must also be praised for slick and effective transitions for a first night. Lighting changes at the moments of Medea’s praying provided great contrasts in a scene that worked beautifully with the reactions of superstition from the chorus. The presentation of Medea’s children using shadows on a sheet was well accomplished and well-rehearsed so as to not affect the overall pace of the scene. Furthermore, the portrayal of the wedding scene through the shadow sequence I felt was so effective that less dialogue was necessary; I felt this lessened the crisis moment of the play.
Overall, the was an imaginative take on the Classical tragedy that was well rehearsed, included great attention to detail and featured interesting innovation in the use of chorus. I would be alarmed if it got you into the Christmas spirit, but it’s well worth venturing out into the ice for!
Medea will be playing in the Assembly Rooms Theatre on the 14th and 15th December at 7:30pm.