I don’t get Medea. I am sure that is the point of the play. Some theatre productions give her a motive for killing her children: revenge, bloodlust. Love. Loyalty. These are all different interpretations; in the end, we just don’t know.
What the inspired people from Bern-based theatre company Faust Gottes have done with the material makes for a fascinating 90 minutes. They are working together with vocal ensemble Suppléments Musicaux, musicians from Campo Fiorente, and the BeST student theatre. There’s a Greek choir at the entrance you have to walk past. Then there’s the eerie, jarring soundtrack. The play itself uses all kinds of conceits: I think I’ve identified elements as diverse as the Trololo Man, a casting show, a party rally, a pompous speech, and slight allusions to Peter Greenaway and Julie Taymor’s Titus Andronicus. Mundart. Internet trolling. Literary history. Musical numbers. Slow-motion party revels. Mindless fame-worshippers babbling nonsense. High pathos is followed by bleak realism. Most theatrical productions with so many twists and double-backs turn into something like a muddy pick-n-mix. Not this one. It’s on of the best plays I’ve seen in quite a while.
Among the performances, two stand out. Kudos to the actress playing Medea because it is such a difficult role to pull off. Medea, the character, is overwhelmed, and overwhelming. And there is an irresistibly camp Kreon who behaves like Liberace was given an island to rule over.
While the party in Corinth must go on because her husband Iason is marrying Kreon’s daughter, Medea is on her downward spiral. She gets derided, scorned, molested, cast out and is generally ignored, while keeping her thoughts more and more to herself. There is a scene towards the end where she takes her time to put on make-up. You know what’s coming. The longer the scene goes on, the more hopeless I felt. There is a chill in those moments that made me fidget in my seat.
Any yet, throughout the play, Medea does not let her shoulders slump. She doesn’t flinch. It’s the darnedest thing: She is not free of guilt, but I still somewhat empathise with her. What she does is horrific, but what happens to her is just as horrific. You want to look away, but Medea keeps staring at you.
“Medea” is on every night this week at the Tojo Theatre, Reithalle Bern, Switzerland, until Sunday, January 11.