Oxford Playhouse
When I go to the theatre I am often moved by the unexpected. Some event in a play resonates with an experience in my own life- growing old, children leaving home, disappointment, hope, or tragedy and I am surprised by the depths of my emotions. The story of Medea has a huge job to do- we are asked to understand and empathise with a woman who ultimately sacrifices her own children to wreck vengeance on her errant husband. We should be shocked and yet understand what drives Medea to carry out such a heinous deed. We should find it absorbing, brutal and above all tragic. We should definitely not, as an audience laugh, at a stirring speech made by Medea when she tells her husband in no uncertain terms to f-off after the deed has been done. Greek tragedy is a strange beast. It often involves great violence and yet the violence is not shown on stage- it is reported by a player on the stage. This is because the outdoor theatre used to stage an Ancient Greek play was considered a holy place and to kill someone on stage was considered the same as killing them in real life! This lack of action could be dramatically limiting, especially in the modern world where we are always demanding more action, blood and gore! However, a great story wonderfully told sticks in the mind and really makes one think! Nina Kristofferson does a fine job as Medea using her body and full range of emotions to express the rage felt by the character. She obviously understands the genre that is Greek Tragedy and works hard to portray her emotions through her movement and clear words. It is a shame that all her hard work is rather undone when other characters enter the fray! The men are all dressed in outfits that could have come straight from Brideshead revisited- brown shoes and white suits with a bowler hat for the king of Athens! This, coupled with incredibly strong Northern accents distracts from the flow of the play. Andrew Pollard as Jason delivers his lines well but appears too static for a Greek drama and when he finally falls to the floor at the end of the play it seems unnatural and forced. He does not convince as a father overcome with emotion. However, these are minor points compared to the appearance of the chorus. In Greek drama traditionally the tale is enhanced by the chorus, a body of people singing and dancing as one. This sounds strange but the very movement and togetherness of the chorus add to the story telling and drama, demanding an emotional response. At its best it can be quite hypnotic, badly done it is just a bit embarrassing and detracts from the story! Unfortunately the Northern Broadsides chorus was the latter. The chorus consisted of three women dressed in pale robes who spoke in unison with broad northern accents. This created a rather good spooky effect, which was completely ruined by their musical interludes. On the right hand side of the stage there were various instruments. I should have realized what was to come when, after their first speech, the three women all whipped out harmonicas (I kid you not!) for a quick tune. Perhaps if the production had just stuck to this one instrument but no.just as the play got back on track we were treated to the chorus moving to the instruments and the surreal sight of one of them playing the saxophone, accompanied by drums and keyboard, in a jazz type number. It all took on the feel of a Monty Python movie not good, in what should have been an absorbing tragic tale! By the end of the play the hotch potch of music was joined by rock music, just to confuse and mystify the audience further. These strange interruptions had the effect of making the play disjointed and at times frankly bizarre! The other great failing of the play was the sporadic use of jarring language. Northern Broadsides are renowned for their efforts to make drama accessible and the language used here was easy to understand and, for the most part, poetic. However, here and there the use of modern language just did not work. It was like they were trying too hard to get down with the kidz and just became embarrassing. Perfectly good phrases and dialogue were ruined by words and phrases such as chuck out instead of banish and kids instead of children. Some words were used to shock but, rather than having the effect they intended, just made the audience snigger, as they seemed so out of place. I felt for the actress playingMedea as she bravely told Jason to f-off and the audience laughed! There were moments when the production seemed more sure-footed. Barrie Rutter was excellent when describing a grizzly death and the audience were silent as we were caught up in the horror. Time and again the story got going and the drama built only to be dashed when either the chorus interrupted with another style of music or a careless incongruous word broke the spell. The Oxford Playhouse was full on the night I went and the audience, young and old emerged into the night cheerful and with lots to discuss. They seemed on the whole to have enjoyed the experience but I cannot help feeling that no-one had been moved by this brilliant tale and for that I cannot forgive Broadsides. Greek tragedy at its best moves you to tears; this was in danger of producing tears of laughter.
Copyright © 2011 Nina Kristofferson´s All rights reserved.
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