Theatre review: Medusa, The Rechabite, WA

Thematically resonant, dramatically intriguing and downright fun.

Created over the span of three years, Feet First Collective’s impressive work of immersive theatre told the story of Medusa, a radiant mortal woman who devoted her life to Athena, the goddess of wisdom and war. After being raped in Athena’s sacred temple, Medusa was cursed by Athena and punished for the sea god Posiedon’s actions. Like many innocent victims, Medusa was unjustly villainised. Or, to be more specific, she was transformed into a snake-haired monster. This Greek myth is too well-known for spoiler alerts, but Feet First Collective has breathed immersive new life into an ancient story.

Upon arrival, the audience entered a club-like environment comprising a three-tiered room. They could have been forgiven for believing they had wandered into a nightclub rather than attending a night of theatre. Request cards with instructions like “dance with a partner” were given to attendees, encouraging interaction, and inciting a sense that each person was part of a fictional world. As the audience grew more comfortable, the dance floor became livelier. 

From the beginning, every audience member experienced a unique perspective on events as they unfolded. Some were invited to the top floor to see the goddess Athena’s VIP area. Others were given cards instructing them to take a peek at Medusa’s dressing room. ‘Is this your first night at the Temple?’ Medusa asked an audience member, as she sat at her dressing room table. ‘How did you hear about it? Athena?’

None of the actors broke character throughout their series of impromptu audience interactions. Some audience members remained wallflowers, while others embraced the interactivity, role play and vibrant club atmosphere. High-vibe music and podium dancing added to the suspension of disbelief, as did a variety of well-placed props. 

By the time the show officially started, the Temple was well and truly vibing across all levels; with so much going on it was hard to know where to look. After a rhyming introduction by sultry Medusa (Lauren Beeton) and entitled Poseidon (Tate Bennett), the Temple’s voyeuristic benefactress, Athena (Sally Clune), commanded audience attention from the highest of three balconied levels.

Before long, sweet, innocent Andromeda (Ella Jones) captured Poseidon’s interest. From a distance, it was hard to tell whether an interaction between them was a moment of flirting or an overt altercation. At another point, Poseidon became visibly violent with her. However, the music was too loud for the entire audience to hear the crux of what was occurring. Bec Price’s sound design was attentive to both mood and practicality, succeeding in both, despite having a multitude of unique considerations to contend with due to the multidimensional nature of the work.

Not only did Price’s sound design add to the overall immersion, but it cleverly drove home the uncomfortable truth that it can often be hard to tell what a person’s intentions and actions might signify, particularly in the context of dynamics characterised by ambiguity or a power imbalance. It was up to attendees to decide how closely they wanted to follow the action, but the most important moments were in full view of everyone, with the music turned down at the behest of all-powerful Athena. 

Poseidon, like too many men, felt entitled to whatever he wanted, from whomever he wanted. A particularly intense scene had Medusa’s curtained dressing room lit up, glowing crimson under the surrounding darkness. Silhouetted figures, escalating music and flashing red lights increased the anxiety as well as the tension. Afterwards, one wave of Athena’s hand proved her disturbing ability to turn abused women into monstrous villains. After Medusa was taken away, a shower of “monstrous beast” cards fell to the floor like rain. 

Perseus (Samuel Addison), clad in gold and blue, arrived to slay the beast. His initial bout of stand-up comedy broke the ominous tension, enabling the audience to breathe more easily for a moment. Perseus spoke of his heroic attempt to protect his mother from the unwanted affections of a certain king. This aspect mirrored the production’s strong theme surrounding lack of consent, while positioning Perseus as a man willing to fight against injustice. His likeable demeanour and comic relief provided a contrast to the entitlement and manipulation of other characters.

Matching the prior aerial prowess of Athena, Perseus’ character development was explored via aerial silks, culminating in an iron eagle of personal strength, and some light balcony-scaling to underline his “questliness”. Aline Chapet-Batlle’s joint role as aerial dramaturg and trainer proved a boon to the production, with brilliant aerial performances from both Clune and Addison.

The infamous climactic stand-off between Medusa and Perseus led (as expected) to Medusa’s beheading, cleverly encapsulating the instrumentalisation of wronged women being used as a means to an end. One final betrayal from Poseidon left Andromeda in peril. The subsequent dynamic between Andromeda and Perseus explored agency, freedom and choice, leading to a macabre moment of mutually unwelcome revelation.

The fates of Medusa, Andromeda and Athena were beautifully intertwined, fused by the actions of the insufferable Poseidon and determined would-be hero, Perseus. Like Medusa, Andromeda was innocent, but thrown to the mercy of those who would do her harm. A dialogue with the monster told every woman’s story – a story of women as objects and tools, framed by male entitlement, sexual assault and the minutiae of detail people can fixate on in traumatic moments.

Highlights of the evening included a powerful dance shared by Medusa and Athena, and the aforementioned aerial silks performances, which – particularly when combined with Christian Lovelady’s exceptional lighting – were visually stunning. The chemistry maintained between the characters was strong, resulting in a dramatically cohesive whole, with the sum made stronger by the interactions of its parts.

The layout of the venue was uniquely perfect for the execution of the concept. Everything from Medusa’s dressing room (sheer white fabric, second level) to a realistic-looking bar (far back, ground floor) immersed the audience in the setting as much as in the story itself, thanks to Molly Werner’s creative set design, which made excellent use of the physical space. Charlotte Watson’s eye-catching costumes and props combined with Jennifer Friend’s excellent stage management to create pure mythological magic, transporting audience members to Athena’s aesthetic temple. 

Directed and produced by the illustrious Teresa Izzard, Medusa would have been just as interesting, albeit shorter, performed as traditional theatre. However, having the audience experience a merging of the relationship between fiction and life was thematically resonant, dramatically intriguing and downright fun. Telling this story as immersive theatre was a risky move that definitely paid off for Feet First Collective.

Read: Dance review: 4/4, Merlyn Theatre

Keely Moloney’s immersive variation on the Medusa myth told an intense tale intent on exposing the lies traditions are too often built upon. This resonant production was intentionally oriented towards overcoming unjust power structures. It grappled with the repercussions of assault, the removal of agency and non-accountability, while stressing the importance of believing those who have been wronged. Feet First Collective has created an unforgettable experience of immersive theatre in Medusa, which is sure to inspire an array of innovative creative endeavours.

The Rechabite, WA
Feet First Collective
Producer, Director and Movement Coach: Teresa Izzard
Associate Producer: Lauren Beeton
Set Designer: Molly Werner
Costume and Prop Designer: Charlotte Watson
Sound Designer and Composition: Bec Price
Lighting Designer and Rigger: Christian Lovelady
Aerial Trainer and Dramaturg: Aline Chapet-Batlle
Stage Manager: Jennifer Friend
Lead Writer: Keely Moloney
Contributing Writers: Silvia Lehmann, Samuel Addison, Teresa Izzard, Lauren Beeton, Sally Clune, Tate Bennett
Cast: Lauren Beeton, Tate Bennett, Sally Clune, Ella Jones, Samuel Addison, Marli Haddeil, Dominique Duvall, Keely Molony

Medusa was performed from 3-6 August 2023.

Nanci Nott is a nerdy creative with particular passions for philosophy and the arts. She has completed a BA in Philosophy, and postgraduate studies in digital and social media. Nanci is currently undertaking an MA in Creative Writing, and is working on a variety of projects ranging from novels to video games. Nanci loves reviewing books, exhibitions, and performances for ArtsHub, and is creative director at Defy Reality Entertainment.