I’ve had my eye on this show for some time. Being an avid Greek Theatre fan, I was keen to see what this fusion play has to offer. It did not disappoint.
A combination of Japanese Butoh dance and Euripides’ tragedy; Butoh Medea captures the tormented heart of one of ancient history’s most notorious killers.
Butoh is an interesting art form; a reactionary style born during the fallout of WWII. Its original name, ankoku butō (The Dance of Darkness’), couldn’t be more apt or more suited to tragic myth. Butoh is seductive and grotesque, synonymous with taboo and the rejection of western aesthetic. It’s earth and spit and blood; a beautiful horrorshow.
Having found a kindred spirit in The Medea, the tale of a women driven to infanticide by the abuses she has faced, these two forms collide in a devilish sorority that harrows and arouses in equal measure. A dark intercourse of East and West.
Unlike many readings of Euripides’ tragedy, this play focuses on the barbarous and transformational side of human nature. Often, Medea is used to comment on gender inequality – contemporary productions being more proto-feminist than anything else – but this hasn’t always been the case. In the time of it’s conception, Medea’s Barbarian heritage was the most antagonistic of her traits, and Butoh Medea returns to explore this. I didn’t get the impression that this play concerns itself with Medea being a woman betrayed, it concerns itself with the genderless inner-beast that lies dormant in all of us. Yes, this play is about love, betrayal, family and murder – but not from a feminine perspective. Instead, we witness an inner darkness that can manifest in anyone. Strangely, Medea somehow never comes across as being ‘evil’; she is bestial – lycanthropic. We see her rage against herself, against the world and those who have hurt her; tearing back and forth between rationality and instinct. I thoroughly enjoyed this take on the myth. It presents a more universal, deeper catalyst for Medea’s actions, the impact of which is undeniable. This play moves you as easily as the wind does dead leaves.
Butoh Medea is unlike anything I’ve seen at The Fringe; it’s exotic, visceral and transformative. Yokko submits her body in a ritualistic and convulsive display that goes beyond what we are used to in Western theatre. Summoned from the Underworld and reborn from a black womb, Yokko appears possessed by the story she tells. She’s a relentless and terrifying performer with an unparalleled discipline and commitment to character.
As I mentioned, the premise of this play is that the spirit of Medea has been summoned to relive her actions in front of us; a cyclic punishment that has no beginning and no end. Much in the same way as the original myth, Medea’s curse is that she cannot escape her bloody fate. There is a palpable suffering caused by these cycles; partly captured in Yokko’s physical performance and partly in Sean Michael Welch’s script. We hear Medea’s confessions; every family she has been a part of, she has destroyed. The play ends where it began, Medea enveloped in a black shroud that is both womb and grave. This is a punishing play to perform and watching Yokko is a deeply unsettling experience; it’s a sensual feast that leaves you stunned and amazed.
Sometimes, the script was a point of contention for me. stylistically, I would’ve liked the writing to have been more abstract; at points, it felt very literal and it jarred with the physical language. I understand that Welch has a story to tell and those unfamiliar with the myth might need the clarity it possesses; I just wonder whether the script could have more in common with the nature of Butoh. Butoh is an assault on refinement and understatement and the script, at least in my opinion, was too much of both. There were some spectacular moments, notably Medea proving her love for Jason and the description of her exile; both of which had a more poetic flare and guttural style. All in all, nothing is lost due to the script but not enough is gained either.
This play effected me like a chemical reaction. I could feel it in my blood. My senses were sharper, my adrenaline levels were higher and I left feeling primal and raw.
Butoh Medea is visually superb; Yokko has created something that is so seldom seen, making this an unmissable show. It is not an easy watch, nor should it be; this is theatre unleashed and it’s a strange pleasure to be sat in front of it.
From a scholarly perspective, Butoh Medea contributes to that age-old question surrounding the Medea myth; ‘how can a women massacre her own children?’. Their answer is a fascinating one: There’s a primal force, an inner beast, the pre-human that, when unleashed, is capable of anything – and we suffer for its brutality.
Go and be amazed.
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