Review: Medea on Media (C)
Updated: Jun 3
When is a production of Medea not a production of Medea? Apparently, when the Koreans do it. Theatre group Seongbukdong Beedoolkee have brought a show that takes the core story of Euripides classic tragedy of madness and revenge and gives it a whole new meaning that is frighteningly relevant to our modern lives. But, as ever, there‘s a question of whether international theatre, ingenious or ludicrous, will get lost in translation.
There is a lot that could get lost at that. To call “Medea on Media” stylised would be to call its tragic heroine, who ultimately murders her own children to get revenge on her traitorous husband, a little bit cruel. In this version, Medea is a celebrity; glamorous, respected, and extremely popular. The ever-present press and “audience” (a modern twist on a traditional greek chorus) are as much a part of the production as the main characters. Medea gets a positive response from the people for her plans for revenge. This provides commentary on the public, who will encourage anything for a show, the media, who lead the masses to support even the most heinous ideas for profit, and celebrities, who lose their humanity for popularity.
I won’t lie, it took me a few minutes to figure that out, and I think how much one can enjoy it is dependent on how long it takes them to figure it out (unless they had been told prior), because once you start to see the symbolism it is hilarious, insightful and provokes reflection on the demand and supply of scandal in the media. Sometimes picking apart the various metaphors is relatively simple – for example, a lot of attention was brought to the breasts of the woman Medea’s husband ran off with, reflecting an audience’s tendency to see both the cheater and his partner as vulgar harlots. Others are lost in translation, for example, a scene in which we see Medea surrounded by doubts and persuasions to continue with her plan, all delivered by characters wearing masks of cartoon characters, and acting accordingly (Bugs bunny speaking in that iconic voice, Spiderman jumping up and down in dramatic web-slinging poses, etc.) Perhaps the meaning is more obvious in Korea or other countries where such iconography is more common, but I must say that I could not quite understand it. However, the sheer strangeness of it was funny in itself, and there is a certain delight in watching a show with a concept that allows for no-holds-barred imagery take advantage of it.
The cast were all seamless, and it was highly satisfying to see them share the same vision for the performance and work like clockwork to deliver it. Minsung Kim was highly entertaining as Aegeus, the king of Athens who agrees to shelter Medea, delivering a magnificent incarnation performing yoga and flexing his muscles, representing celebrity figures and the lifestyles that they flaunt. Miok Kim’s Medea is impossible to look away from. Wonderfully over-dramatic when needed, genuinely conflicted in her softer moments, and horrified at herself after committing the terrible act, showing that despite the glamour and falseness of celebrity life there is still humanity behind it.
It is rather incredible how the meaning of a play can be totally morphed with design, direction and performance choices, though this does have side effects. Fans of traditional Greek tragedies hoping to be torn by Medea’s fall from grace will be disappointed, and as an ode to the text, it does it no great service or respect by using the story as a catalyst for contemporary commentary. However, that in no way hinders the complexity and entertainment value of the production itself. As a close and critical examination of sensationalism (and all the parties involved), it gives you a lot to think about and a lot to laugh about, even if it breaks convention in order to do so. Four stars.