What would you do if your partner left you for another woman or man?
This question is answered with brutal and tragic effect in RoughCast’s production of Medea.
First performed in ancient Greece, the play’s messages still haunt a modern world shocked by atrocities committed by fanatical individuals.
The play takes its characters from the Greek myth which sees Jason returning from foreign shores having escaped, aided by Medea, with a golden fleece, reputed to have magical powers. During their flight Medea has killed her own brother to delay the pursuit of her father, owner of the fleece. They stop off at Iolkos where Medea is instrumental in the death of the King and the couple are forced to flee again, being given refuge in Corinth where two children are born and further years pass.
At the point that Euripide’s play begins, Jason has taken a new bride, the King of Corinth’s daughter, Glauke. Faced with desertion, Medea plans extreme action in revenge against the man for whom she gave up almost everything.
The Director’s Notes (David Green)
“Ghosts unleashed by the ancient Greeks still haunt our modern world. Medea was written nearly 2,500 years ago but remains a powerful influence on present day drama for both actors and audiences. In this production we have tried to remain true to the playwright’s theme and to create something of the atmosphere and style of what has emerged as traditional Greek tragedy. Four of us took the opportunity (at our own expense!) to travel to the amphi-theatre at Epidauros in Greece to see a production of Medea, staged in Greek of course, by a national company in front of more than 10,000 people. We returned with ideas to add to those which emerged in our workshop sessions aimed at exploring the text and the style of performance.
Many questions have been posed. Is Medea mentally ill or mad? Or is she a sane woman driven to despair, distraction and, ultimately, to horrific revenge. How can any mother bring herself to murder her own children? Is too much attention to her witchery and goddess status liable to deflect from the humanity of her cause and the audience response to her?
Jason has been unfaithful. In ancient Greece his actions in seeking to gain political advantage by a new marriage would have been fully understood by the dominant (male) society. Can a modern audience have any sympathy with him?
We have tried to answer these and other questions. Some have to be answered in the minds of the audience.
The play has been rehearsed during the aftermath of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center in New York. Some parallels may be drawn. Medea can be regarded as a terrorist in that, while her cause may be just, her violent actions against the innocent cannot be defended. In the case of both the U.S. attack and the play the violence is committed against a civilised society by foreigners who feel oppressed. But the most worrying parallel is that the horrific and almost unthinkable actions committed by people who are “in the worst sense of the word unreasonable, can often not be anticipated or prevented. The Greek ghosts are still with us all.”
Advisor to the Production (Jocelyn Rawlence)
Jocelyn Rawlence, a classics teacher, has watched plays in the huge amphi-theatre at Epidauros in Greece on several occasions. Jocelyn, who has been a consultant to this RoughCast production of Medea, took a classics degree at Cambridge 1940-43 and later taught at a number of Norfolk schools, including Diss Grammar and Lowestoft Grammar. She ended her career as head of classics at the Notre Dame High School in Norwich.
She writes here about the atmosphere at Epidauros and her thoughts on the play:
“We sat up high on the stone steps of the famous theatre waiting for a performance: a party of teachers and students of Greek tragedy, the ancient myths and the world of 5th century Athens. In the gathering dusk, occasional flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder created an eerie atmosphere that was, literally, electric. Our students knew something of the context of the play, first presented by Euripides as part of the great festival of Dionysos.
They knew the shape of Greek tragedy, a highly developed art form with its chorus of a dozen or so actors singing and dancing and with the metrical lyrics that punctuate the main scenes. They would look for special characteristics such as confrontation scenes with short staccato dialogue and the messenger speech narrating the horror and violence that was forbidden on stage.Some of the students would be familiar with the contemporary constraints of Athenian society: the importance of binding oaths, the consequences of ignoring one’s responsibilities to family, friends and even outsiders and the total isolation of an alien mother who, with her children, had no legal protection.They would empathise with Euripides’ stand on double standards, the lowly position of women, Athenian smug superiority and its consequences in wounded pride and public humiliation.
A Greek tragedy is generally the story of a change from prosperity to misery. Having journeyed to the ends of the Earth, Jason brought home the golden fleece with the help of Medea and her magic arts. In this play Jason is not the dashing hero of the myth but is shown cynically abandoning his foreign wife for political advantage. For Medea nothing is too extreme to break his heart and save her face. The clash between reason and emotion is personified in her own, passionate character and in her lament for her children. We must remind ourselves that she is Barbarian and has ruthless powers of the occult. The ultimate vengeance becomes inevitable.
What Euripides play was saying in the 5th century is as relevant now as then; that foreigners and women are human beings and deserve the same consideration as everyone else. The tragedy of this play is in what results from denying their humanity.
The chorus has the last words: ‘What mortals dream, the gods frustrate: for the impossible they find a way…’ An emotional journey indeed and an unforgettable and horizon-widening experience”.