Ira Khan and Hazel Keech Match Talents to Keep ‘Medea’ Relevant
Nautankisa Production’s play, Medea, has a stormy start. The sound of crashing thunder and heavy rain create an ominous mood, quite in keeping with the story of blind rage and revenge that unfolds at Prithvi Theatre in Mumbai.
A slave appears on stage, flustered with the goings-on in his master’s house. And even as he talks about his master Jason’s act of betrayal to his wife Medea, you hear angry, agonised screams of a woman from an inner chamber. One of the most frequently performed Greek tragedies written by Euripides and first staged in 431 BC, Medea resonates down the decades, because the core issue of an unfaithful husband is a timeless one; and because Medea asserting herself and vowing vendetta has a cathartic effect. While recent events in India may have prompted the Chief Justice of India to declare that justice cannot be instant or about revenge, an aggrieved wife would, even today, empathise with Medea.
The slave predicts, “She will not put up with this kind of abuse.” He is right. Medea, played by actress Hazel Keech, breathes fire as she rails against her “evil, despicable” husband who has forgotten how she saved him from a dragon and eloped with him against her ferocious father’s wishes. That he should now forsake her to marry the daughter of King Creon is a situation she will not accept for all the riches he offers.
The cool-headedness with which Medea plots to kill Creon and his daughter and then escape to Athens to start life again, has had women rooting for her down the centuries. But when, as the ultimate act of vengeance, she steels herself to kill her children so that her husband is completely destroyed, goose bumps are felt by even the strongest.
What made director Ira Khan, a young, 22-year old, select this dark tragedy? “I have read the play several times and been left with a thought that excites me. If I try to put what this is in words, I will ruin it,” replies the daughter of Reena Dutta and actor Aamir Khan.
Ira was sure the play would strike a chord with viewers because the issue of a struggle between our rational mind and emotional selves, she feels, is relevant even today. “When Medea says, ‘I understand what I am about to do is evil, but my wrath is stronger than my thoughts’ it is an expression of this struggle. I find the script very relatable.”
Euripides was known to be sympathetic to women; and you want to stand up and cheer when Medea denounces the concept of manhood, stating contemptuously, “They say we live a life free of danger at home while they face battle with a spear. But how wrong they are! I would rather stand three times in the line of battle than once bear a child.” Not surprisingly, his play was not as popular in his times as it was in the 20th century when women’s movements gathered momentum.
When the chorus compares childless women with those who spend a lifetime rearing their brood, it could well be putting in words the dilemma of any woman who wants to exercise a choice. “The childless are free of many troubles…Those who have in their houses the sweet bloom of children—I see them worn down by care all the time…it remains unclear whether their toil is spent on children who will turn out good or bad…”
Thought-provoking, relevant, dark. What made Hazel Keech, who brings to her role subtle nuances, agree to playing Medea?
“I have gone through a lot of darkness in my own life, which I have overcome in recent years. So, I felt I was in a good space to tap into my own dark past and find the pain, betrayal and vengeance Medea feels. I feel my life prepared me for this role,” candidly replies the actress, who started working on stage in the UK when she was three years old.
Trained to sing, dance and act, with varied experience on stage and films, what was it like working with a youngster like Ira? “Most of the time, we would forget that Ira is only 22-years-old because she has so much clarity as a director. What she lacks in experience, she makes up for in research and drive.”
A view echoed by Junaid, Ira’s brother, who does the role of the slave who narrates a large part of the story with perfect diction. “Ira has a very clear vision. She is happy to let actors explore but she is very clear on what doesn’t work. It was very evident to all of us, during rehearsals that this is a story she really wants to tell. Also, if I treated her like a ghar ki murgi she put me in my place in a firm and dignified manner.”
What didn’t work for this writer was the manner in which the chorus rattled off its lines, making the play sag in parts.
For Sarika, erstwhile film actor, who produced the play, the whole process was very interesting. “Fourteen actors, sets, music…all put together, there was great energy and I am glad my foray into theatre happened with Medea,” says the actor, extremely satisfied with the outcome.
(Alpana Chowdhury is a Mumbai-based, independent journalist and a writer of two biographies – Madhubala: Masti and Magic and Dev Anand: Dashing, Debonair)