BWW Review: MEDUSA, Nuffield Southampton Theatres
Giving the villain a voice is a concept toyed with on stage and screen occasionally; we see it in the hit musical Wicked, and through Angelina Jolie's Maleficent. There is always another side to the story and another tale to tell.
Now, it's time we heard the story behind another scorned woman, heralding from ancient history, residing in a cave at the very ends of the earth.
Award-winning performer and comedian Elf Lyons has teamed up with the Laboratory Creative Associates at Nuffield Southampton Theatres Studio to reimagine one of Greek mythology's most notorious monster in Medusa.
This new performance brings the snake-haired gorgon to life in a modern-style interview. Medusa tells her classic story in a candid way, opening up about her creative side, her painful past and her sexual identity, performing songs from her latest album and demonstrating that there is more to her than meets the eye.
She is brought right up to date, fusing the classical tale with the celebrity culture we all know, and sometimes love.
The show is introduced by Elf herself as a 'verbatim' production; she then morphs into character, occasionally appearing as herself throughout to take us through the 'interview process'.
The concept is a clever one, giving more depth to a woman - or creature - famous for her hideous appearance and deadly tendencies and portraying her in a way that emulates modern-day, troubled starlets.
With her American accent, questionable humbleness and confidence, she is very much the misunderstood sweetheart - bringing to mind a tortured Taylor Swift or Madonna. Indeed, Elf cited Courtney Love as a main source of inspiration, and this becomes very clear through the performance's execution.
As a one-woman show, it runs smoothly; there are no pauses or lulls, and there is never a dull moment. From using props to gruesomely and deftly demonstrate how a body turns to stone, to involving the audience in more ways than one, Medusa is hands on, creative and chaotic. The audience are encouraged to feel a part of the story; this is only intensified through the breaking of the third wall.
There is a combination of clever humour with slapstick and puerile comedy. Medusa as a character is potty-mouthed and aggressive, and she will not be to everyone's taste. We experience nudity and strong language, as well as the introductions of some sensitive subjects. This show is in-your-face and not afraid to be itself, or to get straight to the point.
However, Medusa - or Elf - peppers her crude and caustic monologue with moments of honesty, feeling and relatability. Elf has drawn out Medusa's softer side, bringing her original human form back to the surface, giving her a voice and a chance to tell her side of the story.
Through the anger and bitterness, we see a woman who has been damaged, hurt, rejected, and ruined, and who is now hungry for revenge. She is determined to be loved and adored, channeling her pain into unsubtle creative pursuits.
This makes for a clever exploration of female rage; a topic evermore prevalent in current affairs. On the surface, Medusa is a cheeky and gutsy hour of entertainment, but it will later encourage a consideration of the title character as a representative of something much wider, and much more meaningful.
Alongside the mess and the mayhem, it's clear that the show has been well thought through. There are countless references to other Greek myths, and to the original story of Medusa, which have all been woven into the conversation. These mythical creatures and figures are suddenly as realistic and quarrelsome as the stars we see in the media today.
Elf's performance plays to her strengths as a physical comic and clown. She makes the most of her movement and her body, using it to its full extent and playing with it for laughs, sometimes rather than using her voice.
This great stage presence is aided by the set and props, which upgrade her cave to a boudoir of sorts, filled with paraphernalia and petrified men. She embraces her character fully, and there is clearly a personal attachment to the tale she is telling.
Medusa would feel very much at home at the Edinburgh Fringe. It is haphazard and witty and mouthy, and could be loved by some and disliked by others. It's loud, proud and rebellious, fusing the ancient with modern media and making a rock star out of Medusa.
Having only been whipped up in a mere three weeks, as an NST Lab project, it's clear that the show has a little further to go to get to complete perfection, but it brings together some brilliant and creative talents to form something shocking, rocking and scandalous.
Medusa has shed her ancient, mythical skin to become relevant, unruly and out for revenge...but not before her next album is released.
Photo credit: Karla Gowlett