REVIEW: Medusa (Q Matchbox)

Review by Cynthia Lam

[Reclaiming Female Rage]

Smashing all my preconceptions of what theatre and the mythological story of Medusa are about, co-creators Nisha Madhan, Julia Croft, and Virginia Frankovich have created an aural, visceral and mind-blowing ‘out-of-this-world’ theatrical experience.  There were no snakes in this production, no monstrous females, no men being turned into stone — but there was a lot of female rage, humour, intense sounds, and wit.  Contradictions abound: the three women could not decide amongst them who to play Medusa, then decided that they should all play Medusa; there was no ‘hierarchy’ in this show — all three women shared the space equally, all had their voices heard.  So if you are looking for the conventional three-act structure following a typical narrative, then this show is not for you. Part-theatre, part-poetry, part-ritual, part-live performance, Medusa takes a sledge hammer to theatrical conventions, boldly and unapologetically.

The creators of this show have tried to reclaim all the anger and monstrosity that surrounds Medusa’s mythic image, and rewrite her story according to their own terms.  They have staged what they claim is ‘An intervention… choreographic expression of the monstrosity of anger/ It is sometimes a metaphor/ It is sometimes not for you./ Stories… myths have led me to believe my anger is destructive./ I don’t agree… I’m rewriting things in my own eyes’.

The show begins with the cast of three female performers, Julia Croft, Nisha Madhan, and Bronwyn Ensor, seated, silent, and ‘gazing’— sometimes at the audience, sometimes at each other, sometimes at no one in particular.  They remain gazing for quite some time, resulting in sporadic awkward laughter from the audience.  All I could hear was the low background buzz of a machine-like vibration.  Together with the ear-plugs given to us upon entry, I knew that I was coming into something different — a show that will possibly ‘challenge’ the visceral and aural senses.

Glaring lights suddenly break the silence, and the women start chanting a long poem, which sounds more like an invocation: ‘Inside these eyes is a monster/ I am the anticipated image/ It exists, it doesn’t’ exist/ It’s illusion, I’m illusion…. I’m rewriting things in my own eyes’.  Words are juxtaposed in a poetic and witty way — it is not all logical, but draws attention to the words themselves, creating a rather hypnotic effect: ‘Tension is rising/ because I said it is/ I am melting the cheese’.  References to the myths and stories surrounding Medusa, together with the notion of theatre, are deconstructed, reclaimed and rewritten.  Through strange and awesome sounds created by sound designer Claire Duncan, together with lighting design by Calvin Hudson, I was sucked into a deep and dark other-world — the depths of a subconscious chasm that seemed to embody all the pent-up and unexpressed female rage, anger and despair.  Yet I felt that this was a space where it was okay to feel that way — I was closing my eyes relishing this bombardment of strange juxtaposed images, sounds, lights, darkness and words.

This show has made me question and rethink what theatre can be, who Medusa is, what she means to us today, and how women can express their rage and despair yet still embrace one another and not be considered monsters.  Medusa has deconstructed all the patriarchal ‘logos’ that has stemmed since the time of Ovid, and given us a glimpse of an alternative world; it is a show that defies convention, defies logic, and celebrates what it means to be female in all its rage and glory.

Medusa is presented by Q Matchbox and Zanetti Productions and plays at Q Theatre until 3 November. 

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