Theatre review: Medea On Media shakes up Greek tragedy with modern media

What happens when you put the water of Greek tragedy and the oil of modern media through a blender?

I suspect you might get an organism very much like theatre director Kim Hyun-Tak's high-impact Medea On Media: two forms coexisting in an uneasy but exciting alliance.

This is a deliberately edgy adaptation, combining the high-gloss feel of a choreographed Hollywood blockbuster with a stripped-down aesthetic. Kim opens up the inner workings of the stage - from costumes and props in full view of the audience, to the actors cleaning up after themselves - and reminds us repeatedly that this is not reality, but its saturated alter ego.

The Greek tragedy of Medea, written by Euripides in 431 B.C., did not fare entirely well with its Ancient Greek audience; they awarded it last place at the Dionysia festival that year.

Perhaps it was its complex protagonist and how she defiantly held her own in a patriarchal era. After all, Medea is both a wronged heroine and a brutal villain, a barbarian woman who wreaks a bloody revenge on her family after her husband, Jason (he of the Golden Fleece), abandons her for a high-born princess, Glauce.

As part of The O.P.E.N., the pre-festival engagement programme of the Singapore International Festival of Arts, Medea On Media acts as a light taster of the weightier themes and issues to come during the main festival season, be they Bertolt Brecht's legacy of theatremaking or the way Greek tragedy is viewed through a contemporary lens.

The heavy-handed exposition and melodrama of Greek tragedy is dealt a mischievous touch in Kim's Medea, which seems quite delighted (perhaps too delighted, sometimes) by its own cleverness and its ability to approximate each scene to a different style of performance.

The production takes the instantly recognisable tropes of modern-day media and puts it on sordid display for all to see. In an opening scene, Medea (Kim Mi Ok), channelling K-pop stardom, addresses a horde of over-eager journalists about her husband's betrayal, posing deliberately for pictures. Director Kim also uses the ruthless schadenfreude of a reality talk show (think The Jerry Springer Show on steroids) to arrange an encounter between Jason, Medea and the "third woman" Glauce (resulting in inevitable catfighting). Later on, the cheerful violence of a video game comes into play when Medea, trapped in her indecision over whether or not she should kill her children, becomes a video game avatar, a thing controlled from beyond.

What happens when we filter theatre through what is perceived as the blandest and most superficial of mediums? Can it still be as rich and meaningful as before?

Rather than giving us new insight to Euripides' play itself, Kim chooses instead to illuminate the way we consume it - and the way we consume any other narrative in this era, in easy, bite-sized chunks. Today's media is, after all, a medium that has its own brand of self awareness, parodying and poking fun at itself.

In this vein, Medea examines the desperation of celebrity and the lows it will stoop to in order to get eyeballs, the crassness of sexually-charged exploits and the mounting body count from how much audiences and producers alike revel in staged violence.

A couple of the more talky segments do not work as effectively as its counterparts, leaving the action to sag between breathlessly intense segments. But the rapid-fire pace keeps the show intact, featuring an incredibly precise and energetic ensemble led by the fearless actress Kim Mi Ok as Medea, looking almost Medusean with her voluminous hair, a halo above her tiny frame.

Medea may feel like a popcorn outing with its hyperactive scenes, but the subsequent sugar rush does leave us with plenty of food for thought.

corriet@sph.com.sg

Follow Corrie Tan on Twitter @corrietan

book it

MEDEA ON MEDIA

Where: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Studio Theatre

When: July 4 and 5, 8pm

Admission: $35 from Sistic (call 6348-5555 or go to www.sistic.com.sg)

Info: theopen.sifa.sg

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