(contains some commentary but I hope, no spoilers)

MEDUSA: last night Helen Mort’s first play opened at the Square Chapel in Halifax. The production was staged by the Proper Job theatre company with five actors covering a variety of roles.

The central idea being to retell the myth of the woman with the petrifying gaze, a gift/punishment bestowed by a jealous god for her supposed seduction of Poseidon, from the point of view of the young Medusa; placing her as the victim of a rape by the god of the seas, rather than his seducer. This was interwoven with more modern horrors such as the 15-year girl at a party who was pushed into a room that was locked behind her, by her ‘friends’, to find it occupied by a male who proceeded to rape her.

The production opened on a day when media headlines were in full flow with ersatz outrage at the Weinstein saga of monumental historical abuse and the associated covering up by ‘the industry’, of which, of course the media is an integral part; Hollywood may ‘horrified’ that this has all come to light, but America elected a very rich man who ‘grabs women by the pussy’. The problem isn’t Weinstein himself, it lies much deeper. Our refusal to believe the victims and act on that belief, over centuries has created the environment in which Weinstein and his like can flourish with a reasonably secure sense of impunity. We’ve only just buried Hefner, as a ‘celebrity’, for god’s sake. These men had the resources to create a narrative around their actions which served to divert the gaze or which they felt sure would protect them from having to answer for what they did.

Mort’s play is generous and seductive with its language, she is an acclaimed poet, but it doesn’t simply rest on the words; there is ‘live streaming’ of visual imagery onto a large back drop; there is a minimal set used to great and I suspect, exhausting effect by the cast, who are forever moving the furniture; there is musical accompaniment to a lot of what is said. Sometimes this moves into song used to good effect. There is the occasional blurring of the line between what is song and what is meant to be spoken where some of dialogue was lost under the music which could benefit from a sharper definition: when the words are carrying a message as vital as this, they should be clearly heard. But these are production issues that can be tweaked as the company settles into the run.

Interestingly, Perseus is cast as the modern-day son of a lapsed evangelical, who truly takes up the belief in ‘God’s word’ and he goes out into the world to rid it of evil. Athena is most definitely not any woman’s ‘sister’, while the central repeated refrain of ‘don’t look at me’ uttered by both abusers and victims alike, sometimes simultaneously, pushes together cacophony and harmony to produce horror.

Another headline from yesterday: that of the 17 year old girl, separated from friends on a night out in London, trying to walk home on her own at midnight, sexually assaulted 3 times in under an hour, in a series of unconnected (apart from the identity of the victim) utterly random attacks by three different men or groups of men.

Some pieces of art are born from terrible events, some arise independently but find their way into the limelight at the same time as something the art appears to be commenting on, by sheer coincidence, the terrible thing is that I suspect that this play could have been relevant, it could been identified as having its ‘finger on society’s pulse’ any time in the last 5000 years. There is nothing new in rape. And there is nothing new in blaming the victims of rape. This play is brave and challenges us to see this violence for what it is, to expose the lies woven around this violence to ‘soften’ or ‘explain’ it, and the anger this should produce.

Bill Cosby, Chet Evans, Bill Clinton (this list could almost be, literally, endless); as in life, so in this play, the final words fall to Poseidon as he seeks to explain – he feels no need to justify – his actions. But he is clear that he will continue…because no one will stop him.

Medusa will tour a variety of venues across the north over the next month.



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