Mia de Graaf interviews Emily Thommes and Freyja Winterson, the joint directors of Medea in the Drama Barn, Friday – Sunday, Week 2.
How did you pick the play?
E: We were looking through all sorts of different plays but we wanted to pick something that we could really make our own, really stylize and make it excited, and we felt that Greek theatre was something really great to work with. We didn’t want to do Shakespeare because we think it’s so overdone, and there hasn’t been Greek theatre in the barn for, I think, a couple of years now. And because we wanted to apply for the week 2 slot, we wanted to do something that was well-known so that maybe it would attract more freshers.
E: The two we were looking at were The Trojan Women and Medea. I’d read both before and I’d done a piece from Medea for Speech and Drama and I absolutely loved it so that’s what inspired us to look at that one. And we just really liked the story. It comes done to families whereas quite a to of Greek theatre plays are very epic and I think quite unrealistic. In a way this is quite grounded.
How has it been with a summer break since casting?
F: It’s been quite nice because we could cast before the summer holidays, people could learn most of their lines before we got back, and we’ve been able to be in the barn for a long period of time, which, blocking-wise, has been so helpful. It means we’ve been able to do much more intricate stuff, and not have to re-block in production week.
How has it been working as joint directors?
E: Everything’s been really collaborative. We were talking about this earlier, and we were really excited about how similar our ideas are. We’ve never ever once said ‘no that idea’s rubbish!’ We’ve always agreed on completely the same things, our focus is exactly on the same level.
F: We’re definitely going for the same thing, which is probably more luck than anything! But it’s turned out well. We’ve done all the scenes together. Most of them were very clearly planned out and we devised them together before we went into rehearsing with the cast, which turned out to be the best way of doing it really, especially with all the physical stuff.
E: Also because we are working with a cast of nine – it’s quite a lot of people to organize.
Is it physical theatre?
E: Well we were up in Edinburgh doing a play called ‘The Star Child’ and that was very physical, but this isn’t so much physical theatre, this is more stylized. Every movement, and every piece that we’ve done is all completely based around the writing, it comes from the text, it’s not about doing what will look pretty, it’s about what the text inspires, and what will enhance the text on stage.
F: It’s physical in the sense that they’re not doing normal actions, and it is stylized. But it’s not physical in the gymnastic sense, no star jumps and forward rolls. It’s a bit simpler than that.
Have you interpreted the play in any particular way?
E: Well we’ve got a really nice edition, the Kenneth McLeish edition, which has been really nice to work with. It’s not too long so you don’t have any of the unrelenting typical Greek theatre. One of the problems we’ve had with the script is that the despair and dismay can be unrelenting, so where there’s humour we’ve tried to bring that in and have moments of light-heartedness where it’s necessary.
F: The thing about Medea is it’s almost ridiculous at points, to the point of humour, but it’s also this really serious human tragedy. We’ve tried to make it so that it’s not a story about gods and kings and queens that no one could relate to, it’s a story about a family falling apart and in that sense it’s not so unattainable.
How has the Barn been a good space for Medea?
F: What I like about the barn is that it allows you to do a lot, but at the same time it’s kind of rudimentary. What’s charming about it is that you have to be creative with it to make it look interesting because at heart it is a black box theatre: it’s not designed to necessarily be very easily transformed and yet you can do very exciting creative stuff with it. We’ve not done anything like in the past where people have put grass in it etc., our set is quite stylized, relatively simple. But I think it’s quite effective, especially with the lighting.
Who designed the lighting?
E: More Freyja than me, she’s the lighting techie. The one thing we wanted is that we didn’t want a blackout.
F: In the script there are no scenes, it’s one long flowing thing, so the key with the lighting was that it had to be really nuanced and subtle. It had to easily flow, but it did have to change because the tone changes, the setting changes slightly. So it’s just these very slow cross fades, and these very light changes from warm to cold washes.
Medea is showing Friday-Sunday, Week 2 at 7:30pm in the Drama Barn.