Are you gonna kill the kids tonight honey?

David Williams

Peretta Anggerek, another night: medea,

Peretta Anggerek, another night: medea,

Peretta Anggerek, another night: medea,

Nigel Kellaway, artistic director of The opera Project, begins listing some long-term relationships. Medea and Jason clocked up 10 years before ending with a bang. George and Martha dragged themselves onward kicking and screaming for 23 years in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. Kellaway and Regina Heilmann have made performance together for 13 years, and in another night: medea opening at Performance Space in April, they playfully contemplate the often vicious games that only the intimate can play. They do this by staging themselves as fictions, and restaging these classic fictions as themselves, raising the stakes as only long-term collaborators can.

These are games for consenting adults. Perhaps they’ll play Are you gonna kill the kids tonight, honey? On paper this new work looks incredibly complicated, a clash of styles and performance demands. another night: medea interweaves 3 contrasting works based on the legend of Medea—Heiner Müller’s 1983 theatre texts Despoiled Shore, Medea: Material and Landscape with Argonauts, Edward Albee’s 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Louis Nicholas Clérambault’s early 18th century French solo cantata Medée. And yet Kellaway insists that the work is simple: “My work is very straightforward. It’s not complicated…It’s not difficult work at all. It’s celebratory work. It’s celebrating our culture, our history, and everything that we recognise, things that we know.”

In the beginning, at the centre of the work, there is Medea. Jason’s there too, but he definitely plays second fiddle to the ultimate bad mother. In this work, true to the slipperiness of gender in The opera Project’s work, Medea will be played, in one of her incarnations at least, by a bodybuilding tattooed Indonesian countertenor. The striking Peretta Anggerek is back, singing Clérambault’s Medée cantata, accompanied by a baroque trio on period instruments. This will be performed in French, with surtitles. The beautiful strangeness of Anggerek’s performance presence, for Kellaway, “…personifies what Medea was. Medea has been variously described as, well certainly as a foreigner, but also as a sorceress and there is something of the sorcerer in the countertenor voice, particularly in contemporary culture. It has magical powers.”

Unfortunately Anggerek won’t get to kill the kids. Clérambault’s cantata reads the story as a revenge tragedy, but finishes before Medea murders her children. Presumably, killing her partner’s new wife was enough revenge.

In the middle there’s George and Martha. No one has written about the middle years of Medea and Jason, years in which they raised a family. Most storytellers just want to skip to the bloody end. Few writers have plumbed the depths of middle-aged dysfunction as sensationally as Edward Albee in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, and Kellaway draws upon Albee’s masterpiece to sketch this absent middle ground, to articulate the intimate violence of the long term relationship, and to view these mythic figures, Medea and Jason, as a savagely dysfunctional couple. On a performance level, the meeting of this naturalistic classic with multiple readings of the Medea story forces a re-engagement not only with baroque music theatre and Greek tragedy, but also with naturalism. Kellaway aims to open audiences to new ways of listening both to music and to theatrical texts, staging meetings of clashing material in which strangeness is not erased but sublimated:

“[Regina] and I are not going to be just there trying to shout down the music. It has to be like chamber music, where the spoken voice and the material that we are doing has some marriage point with the music. And so you start looking at quite naturalistic text—dialogue as sets of recitatives and arias…It’s a fresh way of looking at naturalism, at naturalistic acting. The clash forces us to use different techniques, discover different reasons to say this text…The slippage between these modes of performance is a considerable negotiation for a performer. How do they actually talk to one another rather than just being jump cuts?”

The company’s most recent performance work was Entertaining Paradise, a darkly seductive take on the Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley. But Kellaway innocently insists, “I’m not a dark person.” The perception of him as The Prince of Darkness is simply “because I’ve always steered against doing feel-good, pretty work. I just don’t think that’s terribly potent. Sex and violence are the mainstay of theatre.” And he wants to keep his work on that potent edge, to keep it interesting. But he also wants to have fun: “Ten, 15 years ago, you wouldn’t dare play with these kinds of things—it would be a crime against art. I’m just getting older; I don’t care that much anymore. I want to have fun, and I want audiences to have fun. I guess I’m not nearly as snobbish as I used to be. There are less rules, I think, as you get older, a lot less rules.”

After the dark territory of Entertaining Paradise Kellaway says this new work is much more playful: “It’s much funnier. Ian and Myra were not bright. They didn’t have much sense of irony at all. But Nigel and [Regina] in this piece are much brighter, much quicker, much wittier, and in a way, nastier…They’ve had a number of years experience knowing how to rip strips off each other…but also how to maintain the relationship. And I think that’s the important thing—not every long-term relationship has to finish. Medea chooses to finish her relationship with Jason. That doesn’t always happen…[for us] there will always be another night.”

The restless ghosts of Medea and Jason, George and Martha will be moaning and rattling their chains as Kellaway, Heilmann and an all-star early music cast present a dark night of fun and games. Witness the thrilling spectacle of virtuosic performers taking on huge challenges. Be prepared for something rich and strange.

another night: medea, The opera Project, performers Nigel Kellaway, Regina Heilmann, countertenor Peretta Anggerek, pianist Michael Bell, harpsichord Nigel Ubrihien, baroque violin Margaret Howard, bass violin Catherine Tabrett, Performance Space, April 30-May 10.

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 39

© David Williams; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2003