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Greek grandeur showcased

"Medea", staged in the city recently, related to the audience at a very personal level, observes ELIZABETH ROY


``Medea''... a fresh perspective.

JASON'S CLAIM to the throne required him to procure the Golden Fleece from the King of Colchis. He set sail in the first-ever Greek ship. He got the fleece, but only with help from a Colchian princess, Medea, who committed murder using her supernatural powers, fell in love and bore him two sons. The throne eludes them and they flee to exile in Corinth. There Jason deserts Medea to marry Glauke, the Princess of Corinth.

It is here that the action of Euripides' Medea begins. The Greek play submits the two leading characters to a penetrating psychological analysis. Jason is an egotist, his defence is that he is re-marrying to consolidate his own position as well as that of Medea and the children. As against that, Medea's single guiding passion is her love for Jason. When she is abandoned the intensity of her love changes to hate and a desire for revenge. She kills Glauke and her father and renders Jason desolate by slaying their children and escapes in her dragon chariot. Liz Lochhead, "Scotland's greatest living dramatist'', wrote her version of Medea using the Greek mythic material in a contemporary Scots context. Legitimising this the Edinburgh Workshop on Theatrical Rhythms, Linguistic Structures and Cultural Coordinates observed, "The capacity of Scots to embody at once both hierarchical authority and direct debate, familial intimacy and political discussion, seemed to facilitate such transposition and reception. Further the Scots' situation allows filtration of Greek theatrical text through Western philosophical and Christian eyes, placed in a Scots theatrical context.'' Scotland sees Medea as a role model, a character who has had considerable impact on the national psyche — an inspirational figure of a woman who refuses to be confined to the role assigned by husband or patriarchy, a woman who feels intensely the pain and rage of betrayal.

Although Liz Lochhead stayed close to the original text, her re-structured units and the fresh perspective she brought to her version made "Medea" a very identifiable situation. To boot, Maureen Beattie as Medea was incredible. Graham McLaren's rendering brought to the audience the larger than life grandeur and dignity of the Greek stage in a recognisable modern idiom. The expansive stage, bathed in shades of sombre grey and semi-darkness was starkly bare. A simple, large screen backlit (sea blue, soft cloudy sky, white, black or finally blood red) was a stunning backdrop, with a traditional diminutive doorway, through which characters entered and exited and which held back from the audience's eyes all violence and goriness and the deep moans of pain and screams of maternal churnings.

Six women, strong and pale-faced, unwilling to be drawn into the action of the play and dressed in grey were brilliantly choreographed. Indicative of the hierarchical order, they spoke with a strong Scottish tang. The nurse who introduced the myth spoke the Scots dialect while Jason and the royalty spoke English. Medea alone in blood red against all the grey stood apart, alone and a foreigner on hostile ground, speaking English with an accent (and to be precise an Ashkenazi Jewish, the eternal foreigner, accent).

Some see the use of Scots as a tool of expressive freedom. Lochhead's choice of language can also be seen as a political statement, as also being appropriate for the theme that an audience could relate to. Duncan Duff's Jason was a young adventurer who seemed to scarce remember the passion they once shared, worse, he seemed completely unaware of the depths of pain the wronged woman lives with. He left a strong impression.

The three young children (Lochhead adds a daughter) clad in grey contrasted the innocence of childhood with the corruption of maturity. Their unspeaking figures caused a wrench as they moved about in silence, the embodiment of both Medea's love for Jason and the tool that destroys him. The three young actors picked for the Chennai performance from the Little Theatre fell comfortably into place with Theatre Babel.

The evening was short but worth every minute and spoke to its audience at a very personal level. When asked for her response to the play, a friend, who had had a bad day, said to me, "I don't know, I suppose it must have been good. I kept seeing myself as Medea and felt the rage''.

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