Interview with Neil Bartlett and Francois Testory: ‘Medea, Written in Rage’

27 Sep 2017

Francois Testory in ‘Medea, Written in Rage’. Image by Manuel Vason

Medea, Written in Rage will be performed at The Place Theatre from the 5-7 of October. The Place interviews Neil Bartlett (Director and Translator) and Francois Testory (Performer).

This Autumn UK audiences will have the first opportunity to witness the English language premiere of Jean Rene Lemoine’s reimagining of the classic story of passion and revenge, Medea, Written in Rage (or ‘Medea’ for short), which you have translated and directed – can you tell us a little bit of what audiences can expect?

NB: The story of Medea is one of the great classic stories – she is a woman who embodies some of our darkest fears about how love and violence can be connected, and ever since she was first written about by the Ancient Greeks she has constantly been re-invented – in plays, in operas and in films. She’s a woman who has often been judged to be a monster, but in Jean René Lemoine’s new version she gets to speak for herself and tell her own story, from the inside. It’s a one-person show, and the twist is that this time Medea is being played by a man – or rather, by an extraordinary solo performer who has the skill to do away with gender and make you see this famous story in a whole new way.

Medea’s creative cast includes highly respected artists in theatre, fashion and music including Neil Bartlett, Philippe Fontez, Manuel Vason and Mr Pearl – can you talk us through what the adopted collaborative creative process will be as the production is developed? 

FT: As you say, I have worked with most of the people before. I wanted to repeat the experience again. Medea ended up being the perfect vehicle opportunity to fulfill our desire to work together again. It is worth noting that most of us have connected through Lindsay Kemp in one way or another.

It went like this. When Jean René agreed for me to do Medea in English, I already had Neil in the back of my mind because they are both admirers of Racine, and Medea can be seen as a Racinian play. I knew he would like it. Neil had translated Berénice in English. He was the ideal person for the job. I had performed in two of his music theatre plays, Night After Night and the legendary Sarrasine (both composed by Nicolas Bloomfield). He had to be the director. Ellie Bedham who had programmed Empire at The Place was interested in having me in the house again. She liked the Medea idea. Eddy Nixon, the director of The Place (with whom, by the way, I went down a hole in an embrace in DV8’s The Cost Of Living), agreed to commission it.

I asked Lia Prentaki and Nelson Fernandez to take care of the production. Nelson and I had worked together in the Lindsay Kemp Co, and were friends  ever since. As for the costume, I knew Mr Pearl since he appeared to see the rehearsals of the first Lindsay Kemp Co season at Sadler’s Wells. I helped him beading a few of his pieces, which is no small matter, believe me! We had been dreaming for a long time about the day he would make a costume for me. Nelson suggested Chahine Yavroyan for the lighting, who had lit Simon Vincenzi’s Here as if…. Then finally Philippe joined the team.

Lemoine’s version of Medea re-imagines this archetypal figure from classical drama as a genderless, stateless and violently transgressive contemporary LGBTQ figure – how will how will this translate in Testory’s solo performance on stage?

NB: Expect a lot of anger, a LOT of frock, and some really personal confrontation of the darker parts of this story. If you’re going to play Medea, then you have to really go for it.

FT: I told Jean René how much I liked the queer factor in the play. He answered me he hadn’t seen it that way. Labels can be reductive. The character is as relevant now as it was at the time of its creation. Medea, the Barbarian, reminded the ancient Greeks, the inventors of democracy, that barbarism, chaos was never that far and a part of their world. She is related to and protected by Hesiod, the god of the sun. Jean René’s contemporary version of the story keeps a clear link with the ancient Greek and XVII century French tragedy. This is what makes the text so fascinating: the archaism in its modernity. Time is not linear.

One could argue the choice of the people involved is already a part of the creative approach.  Between Neil Bartlett, the director and translator, Mr Pearl, the costume maker and designer, and myself, you already have a chunk of LGTBQ theatre history putting their heads together.

Communication and trust are key. I have worked with each one of them before in various occasions. The show takes the archaic form of storytelling, of a recital. Between us, we have already come up with an interesting frock. It takes its inspiration from Kabuki, Balenciaga and ancient Crete. It is an important part of the show. It is also thought of as a set, the only set. I will wear a toile version in rehearsals as it is a tricky one to manage -not to mention the shoes! The composer and musician, Philippe Fontez, will be in the room with us too. So from the start of rehearsals, most of the elements will be present in various states of completion.

Watch full interview hereMedea, Written in Rage runs from 5-7 October at The Place. Tickets are available here.

Medea is presented as part of And What? Queer. Arts. Festival. 2017. Commissioned by The Place, in association with NFA International Arts & Culture. Supported using public funding by Arts Council England and The Institut Français du Royaume Uni, SACD France, South East Dance, Theatre of Europe, Marlborough Theatre, And What? Queer Arts Festival and FOLKE.