Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Theatre: Medusa

Renegade Productions and Bow and Dagger
Written by Finn O’Branagáin
Directed and sound design by Joe Lui
Set and costume design by Ish Marrington
Lighting design by Kristie Smith
AV design by Clare Testoni
Performed by Moana Lutton, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, Michelle Aitken, Andrew Sutherland and Sandy McKendrick
Blue Room Theatre
Until 3 November

The greatest compliment you can pay Medusa – or, certainly, the one its writer Finn O’Branagáin and director Joe Lui would most appreciate, I suspect – is that it is “splitting people”.
That’s at least what a friend texted me as I donned running shoes and easy-to-wash clothes for 75 minutes of self-proclaimed uncomfortable (you get to stand through the performance), loud and messy theatre.
My friend meant that people were either loving or hating it – I’m firmly in the latter camp – but, perhaps unconsciously, she expressed a deeper truth about the show; it splits you.
Its physical discomfort is paralleled by a psychic one; the action, a raging female blood-haka, is a sensory assault; Lui’s choreography and Clare Testoni’s audio visual work, while tight as a drum, are disconcertingly out of synch; the actors, semi-naked, daubed in paint and blood, are pungent and self-aware, the noise, woman-made or recorded, is percussive and intrusive.
Medusa is quite deliberately, a sensory overload.
O’Branagáin, Lui and Testoni are all fascinated by mythology, and their body of work is shot through with it. Medusa, the snake-haired Gorgon monster of Greek mythology whose gaze turned men to stone is an almost inevitable metaphor of female oppression and rage for them.
She represents the quintessence of woman-as-monstrous and woman-as-deadly, the touchstone of misogyny and revulsion, the physical and psychological anathema to the orderly patriarchal world view.
Of rape, and murder.
(There were times when I couldn’t help thinking of Tony Abbott and Bronwyn Bishop preening in front of the “Ditch the Bitch” caricature of Julia Gillard – it’s a wonder they didn’t put snakes in her hair.)
The ensemble of young women (Moana Lutton, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes and Michelle Aitken), one androgynous man (Andrew Sutherland), and an older, homeless woman (Sandy McKendrick) beat on drums, floors and punching bags, chant, rage about the stage while Testoni’s images charge around them.
It’s a remorseless and exciting barrage, often seemingly formless and without narrative, but its messages get into your head like drumbeats.
Especially effective is the interplay between McKendrick’s monologues, filmed live from an adjoining room (you can wander over to watch her “live”) by Sutherland and projected scratchily and unstable on the walls of Ish Marrington’s scribbled set.
When McKendrick enters the main room, perched on a gopher like a dilapidated queen, wounded by life and defiant to the end, while the names of victims of the Medusa-myth flash up around her, the purpose of this ramshackle, rumbustious, divisive piece is delivered, whole and unmistakable.    

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