Medea • Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre

Past and present blur together, as Medea tries to reconcile the events of years gone by, and her own guilt, before she dies. Time and space shatter, as the echoes of Medea’s deeds reverberate through her life. How did someone so strong, so intelligent become so overwhelmed with the need for revenge? How can someone live on, when they have cut out their own heart?

‘Zen Zen Zo’s ‘In The Raw’ is a unique opportunity to return to it’s experimental roots and perform works in site specific/ non traditional theatre spaces with new and emerging artists. Forged partly from the ancient Asian dance-theatre traditions, where spirituality is at the fore, and partly in contemporary pop culture, where sound, light, movement and spectacle generate a visceral experience.’

–    Simon Woods, Company Director

design provocation

‘In no fix’d place the happy souls reside. In groves we live, and lie on mossy beds, By crystal streams, that murmur thro’ the meads: But pass yon easy hill, and thence descend; The path conducts you to your journey’s end.’

– Virgil describing an encounter in Elysium between Aeneas and his father Anchises

‘She will not be silent, she will not acquiesce. She crashes against the walls of our expectations like a storm.’ I needed to envelop the performers with my design, almost suffocate them with the decaying world of Medea. The venue is a stunning space at The Old Museum, the huge sweeping staircase and balcony leading up to the space I filled with candles and plaster fingers to entice the audience into the world of Medea where the beautiful and the grotesque merge. Entering through the doors upstage left they are confronted with a mountain of bone white and pure gold hands (such is Kintsugi – the Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with a lacquer resin sprinkled with powdered gold) inspired by broken Grecian statues echoing the white meadows of the Elysian Fields,

Opposing this are remnants of the Argo (stage right) the ship that initially brought forth Medea to Jason, and is the place of Jason’s eventual death. Both scenic pieces are visual representations of demise and death, but they exist in different times, different memories – the Argo is of past and future, the mountain of hands of the present. The broken and splintering shipwreck looks like it could do some damage – as if it’s dangerous to dwell on the past and if you do, don’t approach it too closely.

Multimedia images were projected onto a ripped translucent canopy reminiscent of the violated marriage bed (downstage left centre) where Medea resides in times of self reflection and decision making. A ghostly apparition (upper stage left centre) reminiscent of the sail of the Argo echoes memories now lost but resonating through the present.

‘Your children are dead, killed by their mother’s hand…’ the chorus solemnly inform Jason. Moments before they shout amongst the audience, ‘can you hear their screams? They cry… she has undone us, undone us all…’ Medea enters with the children, demented and sorrowful screams fill the room, then…. silence. Medea smashes her hands together and white dust is all that remains. Drag marks are made with her feet as she retreats to the violated marriage bed with their corpses, and sobs as she smears their blood upon her face…

Collaborative costume design created a beautiful yet constricting dress for Medea, treating this with the texture and blue wash I had created with the set cemented her role as a force of nature in my stage design. Smearing Jason’s costume with the same treatment and distressing of the Chorus’ costumes with spattered washes, visually confirms that we are in the world of Medea, those around her are almost infected by her presence. Jason’s fleece was hand knitted and gilded in gold leaf, as was King Creon’s leather and metal armour.

audience thoughts

‘Zen Zen Zo must revel at being housed in Brisbane’s Old Museum, the historic building providing perfect inspiration for production designer Christine Urquhart. In essence, Urquhart has created a reverse theatre in-the-round, situating the audience in the centre of the hall as if we were unfortunate guests caught in the middle of a mighty domestic. Having seen a performance in this studio before, we waited casually at the far entry doors where we had been greeted previously but were surprised as haunting spectres in white flung open the French doors and summonsed us. While there was effectively a “stage” space in front of the audience with sparsely decorated columns and hanging white shapes like disfigured memories from a dream, the drama happened all around us as Medea, Jason, Creon, Glauce and the Chorus used the space behind and to the side, inside and outside keeping the audience a little on edge all the time. I really think some of the panache of this production would be lost if viewed in a normal, boring venue.’

–       Sonny Clarke, Aussie Theatre.com.au

‘As with all ZZZ productions, it’s immaculately staged. In the unfriendly spaces of Brisbane’s Old Museum building, a simple but effective set is constructed solely with white drapes, some back projections, concrete pillars and a couple of handy doors.’

–        Alison Cotes, Curtain Call

‘The Old Museum is a beautiful venue for an interpretation of the myth of Medea. The supports that run floor-to-ceiling transform readily into a Grecian ruin, and the chorus leads us through the doors and past the relics to be seated. Christine Urquhart’s set is simultaneously complex and minimal — there is a lot of space, and the production will use all of it, but with the pillars and a chorus occupying the stage there is surprisingly little room for props. A swathe of white fabric flowing from the ceiling, slashed into three sections, functions as a wall, a window and a veil; at one point a distraught Medea (Lauren Jackson) stands before it.’

–        Tahnee Robinson, Zenobia Frost 

director Drew de Kinderen
associate directors Mellissa Budd, Zoe Tuffin
lighting designer Andrew Haden
costume designer Julian Napier
company | producer Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre, Brisbane Australia
photographer Chris Marr