I’ve been to my fair share of student theatre, but this has to be the first I’ve been to which received a standing ovation. And I think it deserved it.
Khameleon Productions’ Medea is based on Robin Robertson’s translation, which seems to be the perfect choice, because, in both production and source text, what is lost in the detail from Euripides’ original is compensated for by the way the story is brought to life. Robertson’s translation is written to be acted, and that really comes across in the vivacity and raw energy of this production of Medea. This is particularly evident in the Chorus, which is beautifully reimagined with the aid of music, movement, and spoken word, and whose synchronisation I could not help but be struck by. The unity of the multi-voiced Chorus, from start to finish, has a very powerful effect, often sending shivers down my spine, and is testament to the time and effort which has gone into this extremely slick production.
I also liked the way this production utilised different modes to tell the story, including voicing some lines rather than presenting them as dialogue, and often using more than one mode at once. This helped to sustain the energy of the production from beginning to end, without detracting from the gravitas of the play. The often tense and sombre mood is also well balanced against moments of humour, provided, in particular, by the domestic scenes between Jason and Medea and the brilliantly witty portrayal of Aegeus.
I felt that there was deliberate direction of the movements of the cast throughout, as they really made good use of the space available to them. The scenery was likewise effective, and made a pleasant change from the often stark settings of student productions, and worked well with the plot. It was also interesting to see the cast engaging with the scenery, moving around and within it, adding to the sense that everything about this production was carefully chosen. This extends to the costumes, make-up, lighting, and sound, all of which were managed as slickly as the action.
This production of Medea is also, of course, rendered even more powerful by its BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic) cast and crew. Given that the play’s opening night coincided with Oxford University’s annual undergraduate admissions report, which shows that a mere 17.9% of UK students admitted in 2017 were BAME, this matters. It also matters for the context of the play, which this production does an excellent job of subtly, but undeniably, reminding its audience of. Medea betrayed her family and left her homeland to start a new life in a foreign land with Jason, only to be abandoned by him. Her marginalisation and crises of identity, as a foreigner, as an exile, and as a woman, are stressed throughout this production.
Perhaps the key strength of this production is its ability to show the relevance of a Classical text in the modern world, without trying to turn the play into something that it’s not. Khameleon Productions’ Medea might use music and references, including a wonderfully subtle reference to the Windrush generation, that belong to the world after Euripides, but the story is very much Medea’s. And that is because of, not in spite of, this deliberate anachronism. Classical adaptations with contemporary references can be difficult to pull off, but this production shows that, when achieved, the result is something spectacular.