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Medusa - not to be taken for granite; Beautiful Evil Things

The empty stage awaits Medusa - Photo by David Court

Beautiful Evil Things, Warwick Arts Centre, 14 May – 15 May 2024

Review by David Court

Perhaps it's just my experience of theatre, but there's a critical point in any one-person show where you feel you've made the right or wrong choice for the evening. There's a lot of trust and responsibility placed on that lone performer, and they will be your only companion for the next hour/hour and a half. Like being stuck with the pub bore, attending a bad solo show can be insufferable – self-indulgent and uninspiring – but with the right person, that flawless storyteller?

As the first line of the show is uttered on a virtually empty stage under a single spotlight; "This is the story of my severed head," you know you're in safe hands. And there's palpable relief as the show unfolds as you realise that you're in extremely talented hands too.

If your first introduction to Greek Mythology was, like mine, the Ray Harryhausen movies Jason and the Argonauts and Clash of the Titans, you'll be familiar with the big players from those elaborate legends. Memories of Medusa to you may conjure up a stop-motion animated being with writhing snakes for hair, hunting Harry Hamlin in her temple but Pugh – in this dynamic one-woman show – gives voice to some of the lesser, yet equally as important, women from these legendary stories.

Deborah Pugh - Photo by David Court

Told from the perspective of Medusa, a third of the Gorgon Sisters (also including Stheno and Euryale), she is now a severed head bound to a shield. A Chronicler for the Gods in her pre-serpentine barnet days, she continues with the task now – a passive observer to the events of the decade-long Trojan war.

With no scenery except for a wheeled box and a ritual circle-esque ring of twisted red cable, Deborah Pugh captivates. It's a tale of tragedy, pathos and great humour, and Pugh swings between emotions and moods effortlessly. She has a microphone, which – during the evenings bloody and brutal events – will act as a double-headed axe, walking stick, sword, bow, and spear.

Her tale of the fickle tempers of the Gods, warfare, and betrayal lasts less than an hour and a half – and, such is the power of the storytelling, feels even shorter than that. She's an enigmatic presence on the stage, switching between characters and voices as quickly as the tale shifts us through time and differing perspectives.

Deborah Pugh - Photo by David Court

We'll hear not only of Medusa's origins – and her ultimate fate and plight – but the travails of Clytemnestra, wife of King Agamemnon. We'll engage in bloody fatal battle with Penthesiliea, Warrior Queen of the Amazons and hear of the plight of Cassandra, blessed with foresight but cursed in that nobody will heed her prophecies. Villains and heroes alike are fleshed out, with little objectification (except for the fact that Medusa occasionally literally does that, in a manner of speaking). Ultimately, it's a tale of powerful women beating the odds to earn respect.

It's a terrific show, giving a voice to some of the unsung characters from that sprawling mythology. Medusa herself is a fascinating character – far more than just the hissing stony gazed monster of the movies – and a sympathetic and humorous foil to carry the captivating tale along. Special mention must also go to the superlative sound design and lighting – with scenery at an absolute bare minimum, the audio and lighting team do a phenomenal job of convincingly transporting us to different places and placing us right in the middle of the action. Grab a ticket – you don't need to be Cassandra to know that this show is going to be huge.

For more information on the show, click here – and for more information on Warwick Arts Centre, click here.



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