Any tabloid crime reporter would lick their lips at the story. Jason has abandoned his wife Medea, and their two children. He hopes to acquire fame and fortune by marrying Glauce, daughter of the King of Corinth, instead. Its a disastrous move: Medea plots her revenge, and extracts a terrible price, which will result in the deaths of both her own children and Glauce. Thus runs the storyline of Euripedess classical Greek tragedy Medea. With its overtones of sexual betrayal and domestic violence, the play still resonates strongly 2,500 years after it was written a reason, no doubt, why new English language adaptations continue to be staged. The latest writer to be attracted is poet and playwright Tom Paulin, G M Young Lecturer in English Literature at Hertford College, regular on BBCs Newsnight Review show and Oxford resident. I asked him what was new and different about his version. I came to it because of a very dear friend, Jim Shapiro, who teaches at Columbia University in New York. He said to me that most of the translations of Greek classical plays hed read are unactable and unsayable. So I thought Id have go at Medea. But there was a difficulty: Tom Paulin does not speak the language, so needed to use an existing translation. He chose one by Philip Vellacott. Years ago I went to an extra-mural class in Oxford to try to learn classical Greek, and I got fascinated by the fluidity, perfection, and spoken quality of the language. But Im not a good linguist: I can speak French, because I learnt it young, and did an exchange in my early teens. But Im no good at any other language. So, what Ive tried to do is to cut back on Philip Vellacotts rather long lines. For instance, the opening speech by the Nurse, who is very anxious and loving on a hot day: in Northern Ireland theres a word lunk, which means an unbearably hot, still day. So Ive put that word in, shortened the line, and made it easy to speak, as far as possible. Also, when I was a 17-year-old in Northern Ireland, I had a dear great aunt, and she sent me a book called Model Thoughts on Poetry. It included a few pages by Robert Frost on sentence sound. He said you must always trust the vernacular, so Ive gone for a terse, spoken, vernacular quality, with the kind of repetitions we often use in speech. All of which seems tailor-made for the Northern Broadsides theatre company, who premiere Tom Paulins Medea at the Oxford Playhouse next week. The company has just had a huge hit with its production of Othello, starring Lenny Henry, and describes its style as earthy, robust and energetic, providing the chance to hear the words afresh, stripping away any vestiges of highbrow art, and firmly rooting performances in the vernacular. I have always enjoyed working on Greek tragedies, Northern Broadsides artistic director Barrie Rutter told me. This will be the fourth Greek production that Broadsides have staged. The other productions were also written by great poets Ted Hughes and Blake Morrison. We were absolutely delighted when Tom approached us with his script. Tom Paulin describes the role of Medea herself as the greatest woman’s part in Greek classical drama. Barrie Rutter agreed. Medea is one of the greatest (and most difficult) roles for an actress to play in theatre. We had to find an actress who could be an outsider, but also a character who could best the male roles in the production. The play was written when women were not given roles in plays, but thanks to the work of the great poets of that time, strong characters such as Medea were created. For this production I have gone for Nina Kristofferson who has that strong character, as well as the perception of being an outsider. Rutter is directing the production himself. I asked him how he works as a director. Does he start rehearsals with a very definite idea in mind? I have no definite idea of the finished product. Much of it evolves in the rehearsal process. In this production, there is a heavy influence of music in the poetry of Toms words. Many of the cast come from a musical background, especially Nina who plays Medea, who is also a respected blues singer. It has been great as there has not been much re-writing for Tom to do, just some filtering which I have done after talking to him. Medea runs at the Oxford Playhouse from February 2 to 6. Tickets 01865 305305 or online at
Copyright © 2011 Nina Kristofferson´s All rights reserved.
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