Be­neath the evil, hu­man vul­ner­a­bil­ity

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Living - - THEATRE -

Wex­ford Opera Fes­ti­val

Pea­cock The­atre

FOR direc­tor Fiona Shaw, Medea is all about the chil­dren. They play across the stage dur­ing the over­ture; when Medea re­tires in de­spair af­ter King Creon’s re­fusal to grant her sanc­tu­ary, she goes to the nurs­ery where she flings her­self on their lit­tle bed. For Shaw (as for com­poser Cheru­bini) the witch’s ter­ri­ble re­venge on her faith­less hus­band is not a co­in­ci­den­tal un­der­tak­ing with the chil­dren as weapons: she loves them des­per­ately, and their mur­der is as much a mercy killing to take them to a bet­ter place as it is the ul­ti­mate crime.

Shaw’s pro­duc­tion for the open­ing night of Wex­ford Fes­ti­val Opera was some­what taxed by post-hur­ri­cane elec­tri­cal prob­lems, but the in­tent was clear and dev­as­tat­ing. As Medea pre­pares the poi­son which will kill Ja­son’s new bride ag­o­nis­ingly, there is a pow­er­ful sense of evil per­vad­ing the scene. There is also hu­man vul­ner­a­bil­ity through­out, with the opera open­ing set in a gym where Glauce is work­ing out in prepa­ra­tion for her wed­ding — de­fence­less in her gym gear.

Lise David­sen, im­mensely tall, makes a hugely im­pres­sive Medea, dom­i­nat­ing the stage through­out, her voice rang­ing into an al­most rasp­ing growl in the lower reg­is­ters (her scene with Adam Lau’s res­o­nantly mu­si­cal Creon is un­for­get­table. )

And if Stephen Bar­low’s con­duct­ing im­poses moder­nity on the score, that is an al­most seam­less match for the in­ter­pre­ta­tion, and the singers rise mag­nif­i­cently to it, with Ruth Ini­esta set­ting the bar ex­tremely high in the open­ing scene as Glauce, only just sur­pass­ing Sergey Ro­manovsky’s tenor (Ja­son).

But the opera is David­sen’s, and both Shaw and Bar­low wisely al­low the pos­ses­sion in An­n­marie Woods’ in­tense set, with smooth chore­og­ra­phy from Kim Brand­strup. The video storm fi­nale (Sil­ber­sal/shad­owlab) is a tour de force, and there is also an im­pres­sive Neris from Raf­faella Lupinacci.

Wex­ford au­di­ences can be luke­warm to­wards 20th cen­tury work. Medea with its baroque elegance, and Shaw’s un­re­pen­tantly mod­ern in­ter­pre­ta­tion makes for an im­pres­sive com­bi­na­tion of tra­di­tion and 21st cen­tury psy­chol­ogy, to ap­peal to tra­di­tion­al­ists and the more ad­ven­tur­ous mu­si­cal spir­its.

******* Josephine K is a very nor­mal woman un­til the day she wakes up (her birthday, coin­ci­den­tally) to find a strange man in her flat. To add in­sult to in­va­sive in­jury, he’s eat­ing her break­fast. Then he tells her she’s un­der ar­rest — and she should re­ally get dressed be­fore go­ing out.

An odd kind of ar­rest, she thinks, es­pe­cially when nei­ther the man nor any­one else will tell her the rea­son for her ar­rest. All she can learn is the date for her trial. She protests: there is due process, and there must be pro­ce­dures. There are, and they’re be­ing fol­lowed, a col­league at work tells her when she tells him the story.

So far, so The Trial by Franz Kafka. But then play­wright Stacey Gregg takes off on a whim­si­cal track.

In Josephine K and the Al­go­rithms, the man Josephine’s talk­ing to, and the man in her flat, who is re­fus­ing to leave, are al­go­rithms, part of the ma­te­rial her brain has been pro­cess­ing in the years of the me­dia age.

And they know ev­ery­thing about her, be­cause they have shared all her in­for­ma­tion, whether that in­forma- tion is re­al­ity or a “face” she wears for the so­cial world.

So Josephine goes back to a time of mem­ory, and her in­ter­nal reac- tion to events she has ac­tu­ally seen or ex­pe­ri­enced: a visit to a refugee camp, an at­tack on an asy­lum seeker, a drowned baby ly­ing on a beach; the in­for­ma­tion that a man en­coun­tered in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances has thrown him­self from a fourth floor win­dow.

They are not part of the shared world of the face of so­cial me­dia, be­cause they are pri­vately in her mind. Since the al­go­rithms know what is

Medea mixes tra­di­tion and ad­ven­ture to dev­as­tat­ing ef­fect, writes Emer O’kelly Medea ‘Lise David­sen makes a hugely im­pres­sive Medea’

in her shared mind, in­clud­ing small de­cep­tions, fail­ures, and im­per­fec­tions, is it the un­shared re­cess that they do not share for which she must stand trial: facts rather than shared and ar­gued per­cep­tions, the crime of a pri­vate thought?

Again, the al­go­rithms have no an­swer: she must con­tinue as be­fore.

Is be­liev­ing in fact a proof of guilt? Is per­cep­tion of truth rather than the thing it­self “the new black” so to speak? And it re­ally be­gan for Josephine when she was au­to­mat­i­cally clicked on a book sale, and tried to re­turn it. So maybe, Gregg im­plies, that’s the crime: an as­so­ci­a­tion with an out­moded source of facts.

The play doesn’t say any­thing pro­found or new (let’s be hon­est, even Kafka him­self was tread­ing well-cov­ered ground, al­beit with claus­tro­pho­bic in­ten­sity). Gregg’s touch is lighter, and in­tended to be. But she does ask us to think about our own con­tri­bu­tion to the world of new me­dia fan­tasy and the “fact” of “fake news”.

Josephine K and the Al­go­rithms is given a lav­ish pro­duc­tion at the Pea­cock The­atre, with Orla Fitzger­ald like­ably com­bin­ing im­pa­tience and ru­mi­na­tion as Josephine and Carl Kennedy as an en­ter­tain­ingly owlish multi-al­go­rithm. He’s also re­spon­si­ble for the ex­cel­lent sound, while the eerily cav­ernous de­sign in the hol­lowed-out the­atre is by Kate Moy­lan.

Light­ing is by John Crud­den and Caitri­ona Mclaughlin di­rects with a sure hand.

Lisa David­sen in ‘Medea’ at Wex­ford Fes­ti­val Opera

Orla Fitzger­ald and Carl Kennedy in ‘Josephine K and the Al­go­rithms’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.