"Greek-style drama, spooky sound-effects, underground"
by Arthur Duncan for remotegoat on 12/04/18

MEDEA, re-imagined from the tragic play by Euripides & uniquely created by ‘Four of Swords - Performance Presenters’ at Beer Caves, South Devon, makes a fresh experience for theatregoers who never before came to see a play in a cave. Here, they will appreciate the magical atmosphere that a candle-lit cavern adds to the drama. This production is scripted & directed by Philip Kingslan John who also plays Aegeus, king of Athens since king Jason (Miall Yates) fled into exile with 'his woman,' Medea, (Sarah White) mother of their children. Medea is feared by the populace as being a sorceress and from Colchis. She is a non-Greek, an outsider with murder in her baggage.

Patrons, all wearing hard-hats borrowed from the ticket-office, gather at the iron-barred gates of Corinth (entrance to the caves) to witness the arrival of Medea with Jason, now refugees, seeking asylum under king Kreon who kindly offers shelter to them & their servants, also us, the audience. We pass through the gate, groping into the gloom, down a rough path into an enchanting under-world. Sturdy non-slip footwear and moderately bright torches are helpful along the uneven floor.

Guided by Cave Wardens & countless tiny candles on ledges, we arrive in a large alcove of creamy coloured stone with an ominous pool of dark water behind the actors & chorus, huddled on its brink. The scene inspires awe, as befits this ancient yet timeless tragedy. Two & a half thousand years ago, Euripides wrote ‘warts-and-all’ characters, in those days a dramatic innovation, yet still today those personalities are recognisable as people passionately carving their survival through unyielding moral conventions by subverting whatever & whoever can help them achieve their selfish purposes. As in present-day real-life, few in the play achieve what they bargain for.

Enclosed in Beer Caves, the acoustic provides a perfectly eerie sound-scape for the wailing voices, especially Sarah White’s, as she approaches along tortuous passageways from a distance, bewailing her misery. Others also make full use of the cave’s musical reverberation, though at times, it lessens some clarity of speech. We promenade from scene to scene, discovering the extensive network hacked out by generations of masons. Pausing at each location, we listen to each succeeding episode of Medea’s irrevocable journey toward unspeakable revenge against being cast off, when Jason marries Kreon’s virgin daughter, young enough to be his own.

Convincing moral arguments between Jason & Medea require attentive consideration. Our allegiances sway in spite of our loyal support, pleaded for and promised to Medea. This is audience participation, Ancient-Greek-style; exercising our powers of reason, compassion for human frailties and faith in the god-given precepts of social conduct. Laws demand obedience, yet individuals are driven by contrary human-nature: how can we live between Nature’s Laws and the Laws of civility?

The company cope superbly well with the geological constraints & attributes of this subterranean theatre, yet keep enthralled, the amorphous audience whom this reviewer notes, behaved impeccably. Even a couple of little children were quiet as mice throughout the show.

Beer Caves are not sea-carved fissures at the foot of cliffs but an extensive network of large tunnels quarried since the Roman occupation by exhausted hands hacking out the lime-stone hill a mile or more inland from the coast near Beer, the pretty little village between Sidmouth & Lyme Regis.

Information about the theatre company is available from www (dot) four-of-swords (dot) com.

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