Five women wearing black briefs, performing with microphones and looking fierce. Audience stands around them.
News, Performing arts, Reviews, Theatre

A cleverly orchestrated cacophony

Review: Renegade Productions and Bow and Dagger, Medusa ·
The Blue Room Theatre, 18 October ·
Review by Steven Cohen ·

Feminist avante garde story telling has a rich history in theatre, from the early twentieth century French sexual inversion of female identity to the works of the late feminist Broadway playwright Wendy Wasserstein. Against this tradition, local writer Finn O’Branagáin and director Joe Lui have brought their own style of feminist experimental performance to the Blue Room Theatre, in the form of a physical and volatile production entitled Medusa. Grounded in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the play is no more a treatise on the art of seduction than Ovid’s original poem was lecherous and obscene.

woman standing with her arms outstretched, yelling. she is wearing briefs and nothing else.
The performances are dramatic, vociferous and stormy. Pictured: Moana Lutton.

The work centres around Medusa as guardian, protector and a goddess of female wisdom. Juxtaposed over Ovid’s motifs of sexual violence, gaslighting and inequality, the work expels any remaining myth that women are symbols of seduction and power, as muse and castration threat.

And make no mistake: this is an outré performance and as aesthetically radical a play as you will see in Perth. But it is not entirely subversive. Like the canonical playwrights Homer, Dante and even Shakespeare, O’Branagáin invokes Medusa’s story to both sing her praise and soberly acknowledge that too many men have appropriated women for their own selfish motives.

Messy, mucky and co-operative, Medusa succeeds in creating an incongruent spectacle. The performances – by Moana Lutton, Sandy McKendrick, Jacinta Larcombe, Jess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, Michelle Aitken and Andrew Sutherland – are dramatic, vociferous and stormy. The theatre, choreography, design, music and text are all cleverly orchestrated into one single live disharmony.

Three women lie in a huddle on the floor, one of their faces is projected onto a large screen
Joe Lui has tight control of all theatrical elements, constructing a clear meaning from the dissonant cacophony. Pictured: ess Moyle, Mani Mae Gomes, and Michelle Aitken.

Most impressively, the cast members shed any personal inhibitions, delicacies and pretensions to manoeuvre themselves within the intricate and complex web of the play’s text. The difficulty lies in the overt distraction of the discordant music, the intense physicality of the performance, and the sharp and intimate performance space that risks drowning out the dialogue and reducing the performers to mere ciphers of the design.

In some respects, the gamble pays off.  Though Medusa is unpredictable, director Joe Lui has tight control of all theatrical elements, constructing a clear meaning from the dissonant cacophony. And this is precisely the point: to raise questions about how society – in all its complexity – shapes, interprets and reflects women’s lives.

One last thing. Medusa is not for everyone. It is risqué, racy and lewd. It is allusive, fluid and unconventional. It challenges normative gender codes and disrupts conventional aesthetics. It  eschews the rules of the patriarchy. It is blunt, bold and wholly unironic. Most importantly, though, its aim is not simply to entertain but to protest sexual prejudice and violence against women, and to reclaim women’s sense of control. While some may find it confronting and discomforting, its message should be heard by all.

Medusa plays The Blue Room until November 3.

Pictured top: Moana Lutton (centre) and ensemble.

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