Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Posted: October 10th, 2017 | Author: | Filed under: Performance | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage)

Jean-René Lemoine, Medea (Written in Rage), The Place, October 7

François Testory as Medea (photo: Manuel Vason)

Just how Medea (Written in Rage) ended up on the stage of The Place is an example of cooperation between a raft of organisations (NFA International Arts & Culture, SACD, Institut Français, Arts Council England, Theatre of Europe, FOLKE, Southeast Dance and The Place) that shows how Europe can work together seamlessly in the realm of arts production. The artistic team is also multi-national, where Lia Prentaki and Nelson Fernandez are the producers of a Neil Bartlett translation, adaptation and direction of a Jean-René Lemoine play — Médée, poème enragé — with actor François Testory, music composition by Phil Von and lighting by Chahine Yavroyan. There is an ironic coincidence of timing between this no-holds-barred 90-minute monologue of Medea’s vengeful family relations and the pathological UK Conservative Party seeking to subvert with similar sang-froid but less éclat the very union that made this kind of production possible.

Were Testory a demagogue, you could sense the rapt audience would follow him unquestioningly because of the commanding nature of his performance, dissolving convincingly from a male portraying a female to the female being portrayed. Von, onstage with a battery of sound equipment and musical instruments, steps in on occasion to prompt Medea to explain a particularly unsavoury action or her reason for doing it, and she obliges. Medea, in turn, asks Von to fast forward or rewind the details of her story, and he obliges. Yavroyan’s dramatic, hazy lighting and Mr. Pearl’s haute couture gown and platform shoes place the visual centre of the performance on the charismatic presence of Testory himself, specifically on his eloquent face and hands and the network of sinews and muscles that animates them. From these articulate physical instruments arises a voice that when singing the aria E lucevan le stelle has a wealth of emotion but when recounting his sordid tale has a disarmingly dispassionate tone; it is the words themselves that carry the horror of the images that Lemoine/Bartlett/Testory conjure up in giving Medea the opportunity to tell her own tale from the beginning. This is fertile and congenial ground for Bartlett who over the years has given voice to historical and literary figures, conjuring them up from oblivion and notoriety in theatrical performances that merge the personal and the political, spectacle and intimacy. Medea (Written in Rage) is no exception.

The story draws on Euripides’ play and on Medea’s famous monologues as well as from other versions of the classical legend and modern references. Medea invokes the spirit of similar mythical figures in bearing witness to the love and pain that run through her story of betrayal and bloody revenge. Lemoine riddles the text with ambivalence, layering meanings and imbuing the ancient legend with current undertones so that as a genderless, stateless, and raceless figure, Medea’s tragic story resonates with the sorrow of exile, the drama of being an ‘outsider’, of never belonging. There are echoes of the current refugee crisis, of sexual, racial and gender discrimination and exploitation that infuse the horror with grief and the desolation of a life that paradoxically seems to find a form of liberation only in violence. For the sake of Jason, Medea is disloyal to her father and kills her brother, betrays herself and becomes ‘occidentale’ in a vain attempt to please her partner. When Jason abandons her for a younger woman she punishes him by drowning their two sons and poisoning his new bride. There is neither justification nor condonation of the violence: Medea writes herself in rage. The character and the story are one and the same; rage is both the historical context and the personal response.

Medea’s fate is weighted by her actions, but even more by the aggression hidden in the biases, intolerance and double standards that society imposes on her. ‘I am not guilty’, Medea claims towards the end of her tale. ‘Life is punishment enough.’ Testory’s high platform shoes well convey the difficult balancing act of a character at the boundaries of acceptability with the constant peril of stumbling but his restrained performance does not yield to dismay, nor allow us bathos. Medea’s story is ancient but still tragically topical, a sober act of drama whose horror seems to continue to repeat itself over time, its scale no longer mythical but far too human.