Nadira on Acting 14

I am blogging standing up and feeling very foolish. I did something very painful to my back on Saturday by napping in the afternoon tightly coiled in a leather chair. I now can’t bend at all.

I couldn’t go to the theatre yesterday, and everyone is telling me that Nadira’s performance was absolutely incredible, the best yet. Here is a piece Nadira penned on her approach to the role:

On Playing Medea – Nadira Janikova

Medea represents a huge challenge for an actress.

First, it is probably the greatest female part written before Shakespeare’s Cleopatra. Second, you have to convey on stage the power of somebody who is a demigod, or quarter god to be more precise – her grandfather is Helios, the sun. Most difficult of all, you have to find the human side of somebody who commits the most unnatural and terrible of all crimes – the murder of their own children.

I look inside myself to find those aspects of my own experience which relate to those of Medea. Like her, I am from Central Asia – she from Colchis, I from Samarkand. I grew up in a society where women’s roles are defined for them and where, whatever the law, the wealthy and powerful often have more than one wife. It helps that I have a sympathetic director, Sarah Chew, who has experience of living in Iran and of working in African cultures.

I can also relate to specific aspects of Medea’s dilemma. Like her, I am a political exile who cannot return to my homeland. She faces exile from her new home, Corinth, and nowhere to go. When I first came to the UK, I was in exactly this dilemma. My partner Craig Murray had been sacked as British Ambassador to Uzbekistan after whistleblowing on extraordinary rendition. I was on holiday with him in the UK, and suddenly I could never go back.

My visa expired, and the FCO organised for me to get a student visa to study drama, but said we had to leave the country to apply. We flew to Dublin, and there I was refused a British visa! I faced the prospect of having absolutely nowhere I could go. It was devastating. This is Medea’s acute problem at the start of the play.

Medea also complains of the gossip about her, exacerbated because she is a foreigner and because of her husband’s position. In my past I had to work in nightclubs to survive, and in Britain I suffered tabloid exposes and exaggerations of my past, the real aim of the press being to damage my partner.

My Uzbek passport expired in 2005 and I was refused a new one. I lived stateless for three years and I assure you it is a horrible feeling of insecurity, like you are not really a human being, especially as I was under tabloid attack at the same time. Eventually the President of Ghana, John Kuffour, took pity on me and granted me temporary citizenship – just as Ghana used to do for ANC exiles. There is a parallel there to Medea turning to the Athenian king for help. In 2010 I finally was given a British passport.

I have also come across the routine racism that immigrants suffer everywhere, and of which Medea complains.

Finally, of course, I am a mother and I understand the bonds that Medea breaks. But you must realise that unwanted royal children had little chance of survival in Ancient Greece, as potential rival claimants to the throne. When Philip died, to give just one example, Alexander the Great and his mother Olympias killed his half-siblings instantly.

In the play, Jason was contracting a new dynastic marriage. In killing her children, Medea was doing herself what she had lost the power to prevent. That would have been axiomatic to Ancient Greek audiences, but her terrible dilemma is less clear to modern British. I think that understanding is essential to the character and the play.

Audiences the last few days have hovered between forty and fifty. I do hope they will pick up, though I am not quite sure how that could be achieved. No reviews as yet – again, with so many things on in Edinburgh, it is difficult just to get noticed.

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14 thoughts on “Nadira on Acting

  • Suhayl Saadi

    All of that inner turmoil, dislocation, desolation and life experience comes across very powerfully, Craig. Even if you know nothing about Nadira’s life-story – and I didn’t know all the details to which she alludes in this post – it imbues her stage presence in this role with real power – because, in true ‘method’ acting spirit, it comes from a real place.
    Those numbers are not bad at all – considering the vast competition right now in Edinburgh, considering the Assembly is on George Square and not George Street this year (good for students, less good for tourists and casual visitors) and so on.
    Hope your back gets better soon! Keep moving!

  • JimmyGiro

    Nadira wrote: “In the play, Jason was contracting a new dynastic marriage. In killing her children, Medea was doing herself what she had lost the power to prevent.”
    No room on the fiery chariot then?
    These days, when children are generally protected against the slaughtering by fellow regents, mothers are still more than twice as likely than fathers to kill their children:

  • mary

    I will repost Suhayl’s post from a previous thread in case you have not seen it. Wish I was nearer to Edinburgh.
    Suhayl Saadi
    7th August 2011
    ‘Saturday’s evening’s show was superb. The performances were powerful, disturbing, convincing and I thought Nadira, as the protagonist, captured perfectly – and subtly – the profound emotional cadences of incipient lunacy, deranged motherhood, the rage of jealousy and betrayal and also great tenderness. She carried the audience with immense skill to the threshold of filicide and beyond. The last few scenes in particular were shudderingly good.
    The syncretic music, costumery and lighting worked very well and were facilitatory rather than intrusive. I really liked the way the Greek Chorus was used, as a dynamic, statuesque, on-stage interlocutor.
    The script had been cleverly written to incorporate a mix of ancient and modern – or perhaps of timeless – drama, marriage relationship dynamics, mendacity, selective memory, perceptual dissonance, etc. I thought that worked really well and must have struck appropriate chords in the audience; there were wry laughs at the appropriate moments. The words, the music and the costumes melded in an otherworldly, parahistorical and yet simultaneously visceral, individuated theatrical and conceptual space.
    The male lead acted three roles, utilising changes of costume and accent, and shone in all three. And the female supporting actress was equally effective in her role. All three lead actors played off one another beautifully.
    The show was very well attended; I think perhaps word is getting around, and of course people from all over are arriving in Edinburgh. I certainly shall spread the word and will thoroughly and widely recommend ‘Medea’.
    Well done to everyone involved in the production! We really enjoyed it.
    Lovely also to meet you both.’

  • John Goss

    Craig, nothing worse than back problems. Hope you’re soon pain-free and fully functional again. I’ve just read “The Catholic Orangeman of Togo” another testament to your easy-flowing prose-style, as well as a unique and humorous historical record. I look forward to the next delivery from your pen.

    Nadira, your personal story is very moving. In my job I have seen racism first-hand on too many occasions to recall. As an interviewer I am supposed to be neutral and apolitical, and you develop a carapace against this ignorance. (I’ve only ever once stopped an interview due to the racially hateful responses I got). There was no reasoning behind the comments. Most racists are ignorant people. But they cannot be ignored. My wife was a teacher in Poland, with two degrees, and a maths and science background. But when she first came to England she encountered institutionalised racism. The Catch 22 was her qualifications from Poland counted for nothing, yet she was overqualified to enrol on a teacher’s course which would have enabled her to get a certificate to teach here. In the end she had to start as a classroom assistant, observing less qualified teachers.

    You seem to have the credentials for getting into the role of Medea, and I’m rather disappointed that I’m not based nearer to Edinburgh. Good luck with future performances! When does the production finish?

  • John Goss

    I’d better just qualify my last comment about having the credentials, I only meant some of them, of course, not the infanticide.

  • ingo

    I hope that the reviews will reflect Medea, the only tragedy on offer, as well as the actors personal portray of the characters at play.

    Nadira, once his lordships back has been manipuilated by a chiropractor, he should offer you his steady arms, and weather permitting, take you for a leafletting walk down princess street, in full regalia. That should uplift the visitor figures somehwhat.

  • Suhayl Saadi

    Thanks, Mary. It was indeed a superb performance. If I’d been writing ‘for’ anything these days, I’d have reviewed it myself. So, if there are nay reviewers out there who are reading this blog, get along pronto and review this excellent play!

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