tue 18/06/2024

Ruination, Linbury Theatre review - Medea gets a makeover | reviews, news & interviews

Ruination, Linbury Theatre review - Medea gets a makeover

Ruination, Linbury Theatre review - Medea gets a makeover

Ben Duke and Lost Dog inject fresh life - and some laughs - to the grisliest of Greek tragedies

It's hellish down here: Anna Kay Gayle as Persephone and Jean Daniel Broussé as HadesImages - Camilla Greenwell

At a time when every other theatre is offering an alternative Christmas show, what to make of the Royal Opera House’s first collaboration with Lost Dog, aka director-choreographer Ben Duke, who has come up with the most un-merry topic imaginable? Meet Medea, the vengeful sorceress of Greek myth, who butchered her brother, nobbled her ex’s new bride and murdered her own children. The Wind in the Willows this is not.

Remarkably, though, Ruination (what a downer of a title!) succeeds in navigating its tortuous path between violent deeds and lacerating regrets by way of verbal comedy as well as bold and surprising imagery, fabulous live music and sometimes thrilling outbreaks of contemporary dance. The net result is truly alternative, in a way that even the grinchiest of teenagers might approve.Liam Francis as JasonAcknowledging the production of The Nutcracker going on in the main house upstairs, a bank of screens at the side of the Linbury stage are showing excerpts from the ballet in real time, allowing Hades (Jean Daniel Broussé), a covert ballet buff, to conduct an intermittent commentary on Clara’s adventures in the land of sweets. His own realm is a subterranean morgue, and he its chief technician, assisted by his wife Persephone (the magnificent Anna-Kay Gayle), prone to hissy fits of recrimination when reminded of how she came to be stuck in the Underworld and married to Hades.

The first corpse we see on a trolley under plastic sheeting turns out to be that of Liam Francis’s Jason (pictured above), hero of the Golden Fleece escapade that won him the hand of Medea (Hannah Shepherd). Hers is the second body to arrive through the mortuary doors, her reputation as a murderess prompting Hades to set up an underworld court to try her for her presumed crimes, with Persephone as defence lawyer, dressed in a sharp pink suit. The aim of the court is to examine what really happened over the course of the Jason-Medea marriage and to decide what, if any, motivation for infanticide there could have been. This shifts the ancient story into a different gear, raising the very modern question: who makes the myths and creates the heroes, and to what extent are they reliable? By the end, nothing is as black or as white as it once seemed.The cast of RuinationWhile the legal setting makes for rather talk-heavy dance-theatre, it’s a useful frame for a ripping yarn, and this show is at its best when turning on a pin between courtroom account and action flashback. It tells its stories clearly, too. Powerful pianism from musical director Yshani Perinpanayagam and heart-stopping singing from counter-tenor Keith Pun and torch songstress Sheree DuBois, in music ranging from Purcell to Radiohead, effect many stirring shifts of register and mood. Throughout, there is the sense that anything might happen, and it does. Medea rubbing fireproof ointment into every inch of a fully naked Jason (well, almost every inch). Murder by peanut-butter. Total amnesia in a plastic cup from the water-cooler. Tragic feeling often comes at you from left-field, most memorably when Persephone slips briefly into the character of her own distraught mother, jabbering in Jamaican dialect in her frantic search for her kidnapped daughter.

And yes, there is dance too, which also comes when and how you least expect it. A vigorous love duet for Jason and his new inamorata (Maya Carroll) is so muscular and roistering that you fear heavy bruising. A sardonic line-dance in animal masks is – almost – purely entertaining. A solo for Medea which channels a scene from The Exorcist by way of Munch’s The Scream is actually more sorrowful than terrifying. This isn’t by any stretch a family show, but for the adventurous, for adults with a serious aversion to glitter, and for young people aged 14-plus, it could just hit the spot. 

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