Saturday, 16 August 2014

Where did Medea Bury her Children?

Be afraid, Jason.
Helen McCrory sizzles at the National Theatre in Euripides’ Medea. This tiny actress grabs the text, the stage and the audience by the jugular and doesn’t let go until they are emotionally exhausted. When she drags the bags containing her small sons’ cadavers from the stage, the forest quivers and there is a suggestion of an earthquake. Hair-raising.*

Not at the National
All the reviewers have commented on the absence of Medea’s flying chariot of the Sun. But none has asked the far more important question: where is she taking them? What does a Bronze Age divorcee from Georgia want to be the last resting place of her beloved children? 

Medea's flight path in white box
I can answer this question, having read the Greek text, and just yesterday visited the site of their graves. It is the temple of Hera near Perachora just across the Gulf of Corinth. This is 90 minutes’ drive from Medea’s house in the Corinthian suburbs, but probably only ten minutes in a flying machine of which the sole previous owner was divine. For an aviator it is en route to Athens—Medea’s final destination.

The land route just takes too long..
Hera, Queen of Heaven
The temple of Hera had two elaborate storeys, a stunning marble floor, and was crammed with votive objects dedicated by both men and women who wanted healthy children. It is located in one of the most beautiful bays in the Mediterranean, lapped by turquoise waters and fringed with pine and cedar trees. The ancient Greeks had no problems in praying to the very children who had been murdered by their mother for the health of their own progeny: UNITY OF OPPOSITES.

If you can’t get to London for this remarkable production, directed by Carrie Cracknell, you can go to your local Cineworld and enjoy it being relayed live on 4th September 2014. Popcorn may not seem appropriate to an infanticide story, but these days you can get gin and tonic--also enjoyed by McCrory's Medea--at the movies too.
*I'm pleased to be discussing whether Medea was Mad or just Bad at the National on Tuesday 19th with Professor Femi Oyebodi

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Hercules and the Infantilisation of Modern Audiences

Headwear by

The New Paramount/ MGM Hercules is given only a 12A rating with good reason. Hercules is a trained killer. But not one, as the ancients held, so disturbed by his isolated ordeals of violent combat that he became incapable of civilian life and killed his wife and children.

Far from it. Sophistication in public storytelling has moved steadily backwards. This 21st-century Hercules instead has his family destroyed by A Bad Guy. 

Heracles slaughters wife and sons
Where the audience of Euripides' extraordinary tragedy Heracles watched the mighty warrior come round from a psychotic fit to learn that he was a domestic killer, the audience in Gloucester Cineworld is reassured that the world consists only of Good Guys Who Love their Families and Bad Guys Out to Get Them. There is no such thing as  Moral Complexity.

In the fifth century BC, the citizen audience could digest the advanced ethical philosophy of a scene in which the bereaved father and husband is physically restrained, by two men who love him, from suicide, discusses whether lack of intent affects culpability,  and agrees to accept help in a survival plan despite what he has done. In 2014, however, Hercules gets to slay the gratuitously camp Bad Guy before flexing his depilated pectorals at good-looking individuals of both sexes.

Beware Greeks Bearing Screenplays?
The screenwriter responsible is Evan Spiliotopoulos, a Greek American whose previous credits include Pooh’s Heffalump Movie. When asked in interview which was his favourite Herculean labour, he answered, “The Belt of Hippolyta. Amazons. Bondage. ’Nuff said.”

It is not that I am a killjoy. I like mass market entertainment and outrageous adaptations of classics. I quite enjoyed the film, especially Ian McShane’s louche and mordant prophet Amphiaraus. But there is something about Hercules/Heracles, the archetypal Hero who allowed the ancients to think through their contradictory ideas about masculinity, violence, friendship, fatherhood, social alienation and psychopathology, that makes him resemble many disturbed ex-servicemen and deserve so much more than comic-strip ethical reductivism.

Would you trust this prophet? McShane Nearly Saves the Movie
The elementary level of our era's social morality was summed up in a line from one of Hercules' comrades just before the showdown: "What are you standing there for? KILL SOMEBODY!" If only it were that easy. Even the warlike ancient Greeks knew better. ’Nuff said.