The Beheaded Lover

Shunt, Bermondsey Street

The Beheaded Lover publicity image

The Beheaded Lover is a compact telling of the Medusa legend presented in less than half an hour and as a work in progress in a way that made good use of the venue, part of the structure build by Shunt for Money, with its glass floors and ceilings.

According to some tellings of the story, Medusa and her sister Gorgons were the beautiful daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, early sea god and goddess, but Poseidon fancied her and one night she slept with him in the temple of Athena. Outraged at this desecration Athena turned her into a snake-haired monster to look at whom turned men to stone. Men lived in horror of her until Perseus, the son of Zeus and Danaea (the girl he seduced as a shower of gold) took it upon himself to procure her head. Athena told him how, presenting him with a polished shield with instructions to look at her reflection in it, never directly at her, and telling him how to obtain winged sandals to take to where the Gorgons lived, a helmet that would make him invisible and a bag to put the head in, for even severed it would still transform men to stone.

This version, which director Anastasia Reeve has developed from a poem by Susie Fairbrother (who plays Medusa), presents only the essential elements of Medusa's story. You probably need to know the legend already (which fortunately I did) to follow it, especially as Poseidon and Perseus are played by the same actor, Matthew Wade strikingly physical even when seen only as a silhouette.

First we see Medusa making an offering of flowers to Athena to what I believe may have been one of the few known ancient Greek hymns to the gods sung by Victoria Cooper and woven into Evi Stergiou's own evocative and atmospheric score. Here she is presented as an innocent, Poseidon rapes her, though that does not affect Athena's enragement and we see her ritualistically place serpents in Medusa's hair. I think what happens next is Wade appearing as a soldier being momentarily turned to stone before assuming the role of Perseus. The other Gorgons (Constanza Ruff and Miriam Sully), who have been watching through the glass above, have now joined their sister and chant of love and killing before Perseus appears holding a tiny mirror and wielding a sword. Medusa falls in awkward agony, her sisters also contorted and writhing on the ground as Athena (Roanna Davidson) now watches from above.

Even if you are not sure exactly what is happening these are powerful, stressful images that carry the audience emotionally. Revi knows how to use music, lighting and physicality to produce theatrical effect. The video images by Yiannis Katsaris offer images of rose blossoms, a drop of liquid splashing and one of Medusa's eyes to match the action. As large images they would perhaps become effective décor but here, on the existing twin screen at either end of the room they no impact until, in pairs, they become Medusa's stone-converting eyes.

This brief but intense performance is not presented as finished work and would gain by reducing its more extended sequences by a few seconds. It will not be easy to expand into a larger offering, if that is the intention but, as here, as an item in a mixed evening of different kinds of entertainment in this lively bar environment or as a theatrical element to another event it is already very effective.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton

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