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.