Following on from their incredibly strong debut with Procne & Tereus at last year’s fringe festival, independent theatre-makers Montague Basement have again turned their attentions to Greek mythology, and embarked upon a new retelling of the story of Jason and Medea. Using the genre of the romantic comedy to explore the story in a new light, Montague Basement have not only given us a thrilling new play, but have subverted the age-old trope of the manic pixie dream girl (MPDG) in giving us All About Medea.
Written and directed by Saro Lusty-Cavallari, All About Medea is by turn epic and mundane, a slice of classical mythology seen through the lens of a contemporary phenomenon (or perhaps just another kind of mythology, I suppose). “She was strong, she was cute, she was quirky, she was… exotic. They moved in together. They had a baby. It wasn’t expected, their parents didn’t approve but they ended up together.” It’s the story of every romantic-comedy since forever, but what Lusty-Cavallari and his cast do so well is to subvert this, to align you with one side of the story before slowly and incrementally changing your allegiance to the other side. In the larger story of Jason (of the Argonauts fame), the episode with Medea is simply that – an episode in part of a much larger tapestry – but here there is no tapestry larger than the story of boy-meets-girl. Unlike the myth, the odds here are not stacked in Jason’s favour, and by the end, this Medea is definitely not the manic pixie dream girl we thought she was at the beginning.
Set in a suitably lived-in and slightly scrappy apartment with functional household lighting, there is a real-world sensibility here which immediately draws us into this story, draws us into a recognisably real world. A television in the corner shows clips of just about every MPDG you could imagine (whether you agree with some of them, is up to you), and cleverly fills out scene changes and shows scene titles (perhaps a nod to Tennessee Williams), while a soundtrack of prog-rock classics underscores Jason and Medea’s relationship – there is a particularly memorable dance scene to Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ at the beginning.
Lusty-Cavallari’s cast are incredibly strong, and incredibly brave and fearless. Christian Byers’ Jason is immediately recognisable as someone we probably know – a little bit shy, cannot believe his luck at meeting a cute girl (or boy), a little bit awkward in her presence – but this goofiness soon gives way to a monstrous indifference. Lulu Howes’ Medea is coquettish at first, but as Jason begins to change so does she, until she is more real than he is, no longer the ‘dream’ girl but a real person who has been driven to unspeakable ends. Watching them across the twelve scenes of the play is a bit like watching a game of cat-and-mouse – they never quite meet in the same place or the same frame of mind for terribly long – and when the tables begin to turn, dark clouds appear on the horizon, and hell truly has no fury like a woman scorned. What is terrifying about the play’s conclusion though, is how much Medea has Jason wrapped around her little finger, how much she plays him to get her own end.
I’m sure we have all, at one point or another, felt like we’ve been someone’s ‘dream’ person, someone they turn to or use to make themselves feel better, and it is never a nice feeling, nor does it end particularly nicely. In many ways, it’s the same as being taken for granted, being relegated to the background of someone’s life, of peeling an orange and chucking away the fruit (to misquote Arthur Miller) – and this is what Lusty-Cavallari is trying to underscore, what All About Medea is on about: how do you solve a problem like Medea; how do we know what she’s thinking when she’s not illuminating Jason’s life? What happens after Jason has lost interest in her; what happens next?
While Medea doesn’t outstay her welcome at a taut ninety minutes, the pacing does seem to lag slightly two-thirds of the way in, before picking up again a scene or two later, as it hurtles onwards to its inevitable end. Perhaps not as quietly devastating as Procne & Tereus, Medea is more particular in its concerns, more pointed in execution, and is ultimately a more ambitious and accomplished piece of theatre. I can’t wait to see what they do to Hamlet in December.