Written for FEST
Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Never has this statement rung truer for a character than Medea.
Granddaughter of the sun god Helios, she’s abandoned by Jason for a princess and banished by a heartless king. So Medea takes events into her own bloody hands, invoking horrible atrocities that include, most famously, infanticide. In Greek mythology and Euripides’ play, Medea’s is a story of fiery passion and in this production, the somewhat static design sees a giant orb throbbing threateningly in the background, illuminating an otherwise surreal, Giorgio de Chirico-like setting.
Sadly, it is the most potent thing in a show that takes Stella Duffy’s snappy version and delivers it in a way that would make cardboard look animated. Director Sarah Chew must have had a plan here, but what it is exactly remains a mystery. For a melodramatic story of betrayal, it feels very bland and the actors—apart from a very pained Nadira Janikova, who plays the eponymous anti-heroine—sound flat. There’s no inflection in the delivery of their lines and, as they stand on stage facing the audience, they remind you of blinking rabbits in headlights.
This is a shame as Duffy’s version places its full focus on the idea of women as accessories to male ambition, crying out for a “time for women to sing the truths of men.” It’s a compelling perspective but Chew’s production has taken all the sting out of a valid and powerful contemporary take on an age old tale of treachery.
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Written for Total Theatre
‘See me,’ a sea of ordinary faces asks us. ‘See me’ – two little words packed with such meaning. So begins Nicola Gunn’s At the Sans Hotel, a fractured prism of a performance looking at an increasingly unstable self. It ends with her staring out blinkingly at us, the same sweet expression on her face as she welcomed us in with. What happens in between is some fresh kind of madness, but it’s an insanity which hangs together in a Lynchian way, leaving a holistic stain on those who braved it all the way through.
Gunn delights in pulling the rug from underneath us and her persona is in a constant state of flux. She is breathtakingly personal and at the same time desperately contrived. Shocking us on purpose she looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth and then tells us about an obsession with masturbating in public. She draws complex diagrams about what this story is supposed to be about, turning her narrative arc into a sad woman’s face, and sitting behind it as it stares out at us and she stuffs herself with cake. A German woman sits behind a desk berating a film version of herself as she sobs.
If this sounds pretentious the genius of At the Sans Hotel is that it isn’t at all. Whilst asking dangerous questions and putting herself into uncomfortable places Gunn is also inherently likeable and down to earth; her ability to laugh at herself whilst maintaining the integrity of her exploration is masterly. It is this personability that remains a constant anchor in the middle of a postmodern squall. We may not always know where we’re going but we know she’ll see us through.
At the end one can’t help but wonder what it was all about, our minds desperately searching for reason and rhyme. There are no easy answers, but the way in which Gunn has played with form and identity is a constant source of rich contemplation for days after.
At the Sans Hotel plays at Assembly Hall, Edinburgh 04/8/2011 – 28/8/2011 as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe