Billie Walker

Medea, Written in Rage – Homotopia Festival

On November 1st, as part of Liverpool’s innovative LGBT run arts festival Homotopia, the legend of Ancient Greece, Medea was invited to grace the stage of the Unity Theatre.

Medea is the most wretched woman of all time, infamous for committing the worst sin a mother can commit. The worst sin a woman can commit. She is the sorceress known for killing her children, she is the woman driven mad by her husband’s betrayal and the worst mother in history. This story has been told for centuries by Cicero, Hesiod, Ovid, Euripides, Herodotus, Robert Graves, the list of men goes on, and now finally by the woman herself.

I realise the irony of claiming that Medea is finally telling her story, when the part is played by Francois Testory, a middle aged man whose dress is purposefully tailored to hang below his flat chest shows that there is no attempt at female illusion. However throughout the piece due to his flawless embodiment of Medea, Testory’s femininity was never in question. Thereby criticising a gender binary without overstating it.

The one man show opens as the shrouded figure slowly approaches the microphone, the fog billows and the horns screech. Medea is the vengeful woman filled with rage, jealousy and murderous thoughts, she is also, as this play hilariously reveals: a massive diva. The only interactions with an outside agent are with the sound technician who she flippantly commands to rewind, fast forward and stop the story. When she whines a refusal to continue the tale you see her totter away from the mic revealing her extremely high platformed sandals revealing the true madam that she is.

The staging itself is minimalistic, relying on basic light and sound features with no props or set surrounding Medea, proving that theatre does not need to be excessive to be captivating. This enables the decadent costume designed by Mr. Pearl (who has designed gowns for none other than Kylie Minogue and the legendary Leigh Bowery) to have centre stage. The gown was a beautiful gun-metal grey silk number, which began just below Testory’s nipples, purposefully revealing his flat male chest and dropped to the floor, with a double padded hem to finish the garment. The entire outfit was designed for Francois Testory’s characterisation of Medea and each detail has significance in depicting this Greek legend. Both the double padded hem and the rarely revealed sandals – that incited laughter due to their ludicrous height – come from a form classical of Japanese theatre called Kabuki. Kabuki theatre, meaning to be out of the ordinary, traditionally consists of male actors called ‘onnagata’ playing the female roles on stage. These two features not only reference the type of theatre Testory is producing by embodying the female role, they also hint at the class of the character as double hemming only featured on the most valuable kimonos and the built up shoes are also indicative of Medea’s high status. Due to the added height she appears larger than life, whilst the padding weights the garment creating a dramatic outline; it is as if this tale was told by a relic of another time, moved from her podium to give her unique, maddening testimony.

Not only does the costume contain clever references to theatre and status. It is also the only prop that appears in the entire production. Attached to Testory’s dress is a cape which underlay is gold with red ribbons, which is unveiled at points where she enacts murderous vengeance or uses her sorcery. The presence of the red and gold is always slightly visible showing her powers and passion although dormant are always residing within her.

Medea’s tale may be from a mythical world of sorcery and kingship however Jean-Rene Lemoine’s interpretation definitively shows its relevance to modern society. The topic of ‘otherness’ runs through the piece as Medea is a foreign bride taken away from her native country to another land. She even expresses the pressures to confirm to western beauty ideals as she straightens her hair and paints her face paler to look “just like one of them”. As the story unveils the audience becomes sympathetic to Medea’s plight, a young girl who was taken away from her family and treated like a courtesan or a foreign trophy: Medea is repeatedly fetishized and used.

Medea: Written in Rage, successfully brought a 2000 year old legend screaming into the 21st century. This piece uses little very little theatrics but through its attention detail and Testory’s diva-esque stage presences brings to the audience the trials and tribulations of a victim of patriarchy and immigration. Whilst being brutally shocking, Medea: Written in Rage is also hilarious, glamourous and thought provoking.

Although I would warn those of you with a prudish sensibility that this may not be the play for you as it contains graphic sexual descriptions. Medea, Written in Rage – written by Jean René Lemoine, performed by Francois Testory and translated, adapted and directed by Neil Bartlett – is a beautiful testament to the talent of all who created it, as it is a piece that transcends time, gender, and the craft of storytelling.

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