REVIEW BY PEARL ESFAHANI
Julie Pascal attempts to bring the ancient tale of Medea up to date, placing it in contemporary Britain as we follow a former Kurdish freedom fighter’s journey through asylum and settlement in her new home country. The play is apparently based on interviews from former Kurdish fighters, and on entering the intimate space of the Finborough, the set is a backdrop of faces of the PKK, (I’m assuming real members, fallen or current, it isn’t clear), the expectation is something rooted in the personal. However, this is where any reality of the Kurdish struggle ends. As someone of refugee background from the Middle Eastern diaspora, I am invested in these stories being told, and so wanted this piece to be a success, however was left feeling confused about many of the creative choices.
It is an ambitious task to explore complex themes of a nationless group, religion, British Islam, bureaucracy, PTSD to name but a few. Pascal’s text drops in many and and does justice to none. D’Silva’s Medea is dedicated in her energy, but is so heightened that in such a close performance space, it is both alarming and distancing, and not in a way that allows a critical look at Medea’s plight of settling in the UK after fleeing Turkish/Kurdish war. Medea has some sort of mystical healing powers, that is never quite addressed. If anything, her divinity served to exoticise rather than humanise in this refugee tale. Character shifts are sudden and binary. Our ‘Young God’ Jason, a British Iraqi Muslim, goes from caring, accepting ‘lad’ to Mohammed, a cold , bigoted traditionalist at the turn of a sixpence. Choral physical ensemble sequences feel wedged in rather than part of the fabric of the play (although it does feature some standard ensemble 101 fabric waggling). There is also a totally bizarre sexual assault scene between a vengeful Medea and Glauke, that certainly isn’t earned in its build up and felt like it was there to shock. Despite all this, Hama-Ali’s multi-rolling, clear character definition and solid presence shone through, and I look forward to seeing where her career goes.
I am a firm believer that art should ask questions, however this production left me asking why we choose to tell a story, in what form can it be done justice, and who gets to tell it. The myth of Medea as a vehicle for this tale seemed unnecessary, for such current and ongoing subject matter. Any initial involvement with the Kurdish community through interviews left me wondering about the ethics of mining for stories, and how you can honour ‘giving voice’. What is the motivation behind wanting to tell this story now? A missed opportunity. It felt unclear.
CAST & CREATIVE
Writer & Director: Julia Pascal
Ruth D’Silva : Medea
Tiran Aakel : UK Border Guard, Bakhtiah, Homeless Man, Sahir
Amanda Maud : Suzy, Teacher, Eidya
Max Rinehart : Jason
Shaniaz Hama-Ali : Glauke, Military Trainer
Designer: Kati Hind
Stage Manager: Angus Chisholm
Music & Sound: James Peter Moffatt
Assistant Director: Anna Roche