Interview: Medea The Musical

Sophie Macdonald 16 March 2022
Image Credit: Hayley Canham

If I could simply say “Medea the Musical was AMAZING,” sign this off with 5/5 stars and say no more, I would. But, since I can’t do that, I interviewed the cast instead.

Hayley Canham who, as well as writing Medea the Musical, played Medea said that “writing a musical has always been on [her] bucket list and, as a keen classicist, it made so much sense to base [her] first major writing project on an ancient Greek tragedy.” Hayley also told TCS that she “started writing the play at 15/16 and staged workshop performances in 2019” and, “after the cancellation of the Fringe run in 2021, it is so brilliant that [they] were able to put the show on again, at both the Town and Gown and Paradise Green this summer.” Hayley also said that “in a lot of ways, it’s my baby, and it will always have a special place in my heart.” And, after watching it, its brilliance will also have a special place in mine.

Explaining her drive behind the presentation of the play, Hayley recognised that Euripides’ characters “are complex, its narrative is gripping, its themes are timeless, and its women are fierce. Although it is only the text that survives, we know that music was also an integral part of ancient Greek performances through the singing and dancing chorus.” So, with this in mind, Hayley was “inspired to transform the passion, betrayal and murderous revenge of Euripides’ play into a contemporary pop/rock musical-retaining all the original grit while updating the story for modern audiences.” During the writing process for the play, Hayley asked herself “what could possibly convince a mother to murder her own children? Was it pre-meditated? Is Medea a psychopath, a madwoman, or perhaps, an unwilling pawn in the hands of some manipulator?”; questions which were skilfully portrayed using Aegeus (played by Gregory Miller) as both the narrator and Medea’s deceitful persuaded.

Hayley chose to set this ancient tale in a courtroom setting, led by an “unreliable narrator and lawyer for the defence, Aegeus, who aims to muddy the waters, blur the lines and conceal the truth so that, having presented his version of events, the audience are forced to decide Medea’s fate.” Hayley also highlighted that “judgement is such a major theme within the show, so the courtroom setting, inspired by the likes of Chicago and Suits, really helps to scrutinise Medea in the eyes of the audience/jury.” Hayley also clearly stated her intentions to present Medea as an “enigmatic character,” which is something that Euripides fails to do. “Her motivations to murder in the original play are fairly clear, and arguably one dimensional,” began Hayley who continued that “she is angry, humiliated and happens to be a witch.” When placing the story in a modern setting, however, Hayley believed “Medea must take on more complexity in order to account for the horrific nature of his crimes, otherwise she faces becoming a badly written villain.” Hayley continued by describing Medea as “a feisty one, as Aegeus puts it in his opening speech,” and how much fun it was to “play a role with a bit of gustiness.” However, Hayley’s “favourite aspect of her is the journey she goes on throughout the play as she spirals out of control of her life and story”, and, although she described it as “quite emotionally taxing when she hits rock bottom,” it was “so therapeutic and rewarding to portray.” Hayley also wanted to make sure Medea “didn’t become a caricature” and to “keep the audience sympathetic…obviously it’s a tough one to expect the audience to root for a murderer, but my humanising Medea you realise her thought process and motivations – flawed as they are.”

Image Credit: Hayley Canham

Gregory Miller, who played Aegeus brilliantly, also described that portraying Aegeus could at times be “pretty taxing […] to get into such a horrible mindset as all that.” He explained that since the character is “so big and bold and brash in his delusion, it can be difficult to access such energy. You know, such grandiloquence, and all that.” However, he also liked the fact that his character “was so arrogant and obnoxious since it’s always fun to play people who are arrogant and obnoxious.” He also particularly enjoyed that “Aegeus’ is so arrogant as to continually waffle on, which allowed me to waffle on.”

Gregory also said that Medea The Musical was “special for various reasons.” Firstly, he said that “the songs are continually quite brilliant, and also brilliant in a way that is quite rare with musicals and so makes it exquisitely valuable.” “Not only this,” Gregory continued, “but the way it injects some incredibly dark, gallows humour into a story which might not obviously invite such a treatment, also makes it quite special.” He describes the characters as “all really sharply drawn, and it manages, quite successfully, some really wild transitions from dark humour to incredibly serious passages.” Gregory also commented that it’s also been special because every single person involved in it is incredibly talented, and – far more importantly – incredibly lovely,” and was grateful “to have spent seven weeks rehearsing with such a lovely cast, lovely musicians and a lovely prod team, is what has made it such a great show to be a part of.” He praised the team, stating that “if people hadn’t been so consistently lovely and kind, then it would have been a much less fruitful experience.”

Gregory also praised the beautifully symbiotic relationship between Aegeus as narrator and the play’s music, calling Aegeus an “orchestrator/dictator of the flow of music and scenes.” He continued that, “even in ‘Dirty Words’, there’s this conceit of a video being rewound and replayed, and that’s something deep in the nature of the show. There is an artificiality, or at least a feeling of distance, which is foregrounded from the very first song/monologue. And that makes the transitions into ‘Peas in a Pod’ and ‘Dirty Words’ particularly effective.” He claimed that “Aegeus is a sort of mad dictator of the show’s flow.” The producer, Bella Cavicchi also said that she is “obsessed with the entire soundtrack, and I absolutely LOVED hearing Dixie crush ‘The Bride’ in each performance!” Hayley also commented that her “favourite kind of musicals are ones where the scenes and songs are seamless.” She also claimed that “Medea the Musical is almost like a rock concert, so we tried hard in rehearsals to make sure all the characters were expressing themselves fully in both the dialogue and the musical numbers” and really hoped “came across!”

Image Credit: Hayley Canham

Musical Director, Fleur Gardner-Wray also commented that “teaching such narrative songs is an incredibly rewarding experience, especially because the actors really develop within their characters through the whole process, so there are lyrics that you’ll have heard hundreds of times in rehearsals that suddenly click as a vital part of the story when it all comes together with scenes.” She also loved “working with such a small and talented band, allowing us to cover an incredibly broad range of genres, everything from jazz, to folk, to rock, and so much more between, and thought “the flexibility of both the writing of the music, and the talent of our musicians and performers, made the story really come alive.” She did, however, say that because all the songs are “so varied,” it was “hard to pick” a favourite song. But, in the end, she decided that it’s a split between “the final song, ‘She Listens No More’, which has a really beautiful arrangement and some lovely strings moments (which I’m a sucker for), or ‘Criminally Insane’, an upbeat jazzy number which is a fun one both to perform and watch, and pushed me out of my normal piano comfort zone which was a great opportunity.”

Dixie McDevitt, who played Glauce with excellence, said her favourite thing about her character was “the comedic potential” as she “loved pushing different lines and playing for big laughs.” She explained that Medea is so special to her “because its musical style is so distinct — folky and rocky moments that give opportunities for people who don’t read/play music (like me) to thrive!” She also loved how “the songs tell stories via the ensemble for the most part” and explained that they “straddled inhabiting our characters and being a chorus, stripping down story-telling to its essentials.” Dixie described the play as “collaborative, instinctive, and joyful,” and emphasised how much she loved singing Dreadful Incurable. She believes “it has a lot of power behind it,” and “gave [her] the opportunity to really try and inspire some dread in people.” Gregory also chimed in with his description of  the musical as “challenged, rewarded, and grateful,” but not before charmingly punning on the main song by describing it as “dreadful, incurable, anger.”

Image Credit: Hayley Canham

Gabriel Jones, whose amazing voice made his characterisation of Jason all the more brilliant, admired Jason for the way he “tries to make the best out of a bad situation – even though that situation is initially of his own creation.” He also explained that he tried to balance the way in which he acquiesces to the characters around him, whilst trying to give him some of his own agency.” Gabriel also loved “how the show plays with diegetic and non-diegetic moments and the way that boundary is not exactly clear,” and thought it was “wonderful to be a part of this zeitgeist in which we’re reimagining and retelling classics through new lenses.” He described his experience playing Jason as “exhilarating and joyous,” and this passion was definitely reflected in his performance.

Overall, Medea the Musical was an absolutely stunning piece. It was exciting, engaging and enthralling to watch. I give it 5/5 stars.