Magic, horror and Medea: a disturbance in nature

national-theatre:

Ned Bennett, staff director for Medea, on the production’s themes, designs and inspirations.

There are disturbances in nature: animals, birds and the elements recognise something is wrong in the universe. Rather than Medea flying off into the heavens on a chariot drawn by dragons, the forest shakes and the heavens open. Her two young sons are endowed with animal senses, a strange awareness of what is going on around them without necessarily being able to articulate it – drawing on the sense of fatalism experienced by doomed children from classic horror films.

Set somewhere between now and the Ancient World, this production of Medea has a contemporary feel recognisable as our own time. Ben Power’s adaptation of Euripides’ powerful tragedy is based on several literal translations but the play has been re-written to make the language muscular, the story clear and accessible. A primary focus with this version of the text is on making the characters’ actions psychologically driven. There is a drive away from the overly poetic whilst retaining the scale of the magical world.

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The Medea set designed by Tom Scutt. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

Tom Scutt’s design creates a world that combines the contemporary with the magical; the strict patriarchal society clashes with the woodland anarchic. Strong influences include horror films in which there’s a belief in magic and a focus on the other: The Shining, Amityville Horror, Carrie. The imagery of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia and its examination of marriage and depression at a time when the world might be ending has become an important reference point for the production.

The forest growing out of the floor captures the emotional turmoil of Medea’s brain as well as her connection with the natural world. Trees grow out of one human environment and support another, highlighting humankind’s dependency with nature; the trees break through the carpet and collide with the roof tiles above as an intervention. Likewise, the carpet of Medea’s home fades out into a muddy extreme. The battered lino floor and squat-like furniture conveys the sense of displacement that has plagued her life. The layout of the space allows for movement, transience and places for Medea’s ill-fated sons to hide and overhear things.

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Helen McCrory as Medea. Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

Movement and music unlock the psychological complexity and magical core of the story. Music for the production is written by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, and has a melancholic, pure tone with a lack of embellishment. Within the music is a clash of the choric with the discordant extending the unsettling, horror movie feel. The musical moments transcend the action through harmonised, long notes and hymns. Lucy Guerin has choreographed movement for the chorus which abstracts the women of Cornith’s comprehension, comment and pre-emptive response to the events and world around them.

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The Chorus and Danny Sapani (Jason). Photo by Richard Hubert Smith.

What’s the most important thing about theatre?
Find your artistic home.
Be around people that you want to be with, that you want to and can work with well, and you will be an overall happier person.

Kerro Knox

Head of the Theatre Department at Oakland University

Lighting Design Instructor

(via spangledpants)