Medea Songs

Blondini's Bar, Embassy Theatre, Wellington

24/02/2010 - 27/02/2010

NZ Fringe Festival 2010

Production Details

Drama laced with comedy and music, linking the centuries and delving into the age-old problems of the human heart 

Greek tragedy and a contemporary love story are intertwined in Medea Songs, a new play by award-winning playwright Sarah Delahunty set in a Wellington cafe and on at the New Zealand Fringe Festival 2010 from 24 to 27 February.

Witha live band and a cast of 12, Medea Songs stars the exceptional talents of Neenah Dekkers-Reihana and Te Aihe Butler, who play the lead roles and perform the seven songs they wrote for the play. Both aged 16, the pair gave stand-out performances as Mary Magdalene and Jesus in last year’s Onslow College production of Jesus Christ Superstar. They also performed in the 1st Gear Productions contribution to Compleate Workes, last year’s celebration of Shakespeare.

Dekkers-Reihana and Butler perform together again – this time as Clio and Ajax, teenagers who meet one night in a Wellington cafe owned by the Greek god Zeus. As we know, Greek gods like to play with the lives of mortals. Can the future of Clio and Ajax be changed over a flat white or latte?

Delahunty, who directed Jesus Christ Superstar, says the two young actors have a special quality when they perform together on stage. “I wanted to write a play that would showcase their acting and musical talents. But it’s also a chance for some of the other young actors and musicians I work with.” 

As with several other plays that Delahunty has written, Medea Songs draws on the classics as the basis for a contemporary story about teenagers. In the Greek tragedy by Euripides, the sorceress Medea kills her two children to spite her husband, Jason, who has left her for another woman.

“I wanted to explore how we, as adults, can sacrifice the emotional happiness of our children through our own self-absorbed needs,” she says. “I’ve seen the effect of that sacrifice on young people and I want this play to show that we can make choices and change our life story. So it’s a story of hope, but one that I think audiences will also find funny and heart-warming.”

Delahunty, who is co-director of 1st Gear Productions in Wellington, specialises in teaching, directing and writing plays for teenagers. She has written more than 20 plays, many of them for young people. Her Fringe 2008 play, 2b or nt 2b?, won a Pick of the Fringe award. It was also nominated for the 2008 Outstanding New New Zealand Play of the Year in the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards and won Playmarket’s 2009 Plays for the Young Competition.

Delahunty likes including music in her plays. “Music is like emotional shorthand. It can go straight to the heart.” 

As well as playing the role of Ajax and Jason, Te Aihe Butler is musical director. “I did Jesus Christ Superstar because I can sing but then I discovered that I love acting. It was one of the best experiences of my life.”

Neenah Dekkers-Reihana has been singing since she was a young child and performed her first solo in a schools music festival in the Michael Fowler Centre when she was in Year 8. “I’m still a bit blown away by how awesome the play is and being able to sing our own songs,” she says. “Drama started up for me at school but Sarah has opened up opportunities for me to perform. I’ve just learned so much from her.”

A CD of the seven songs will be available for sale at the performances. In the meantime, a recording of the first song, Waiting, can be heard now on You Tube.

Where: Blondinis Cafe, Embassy Theatre, Kent Tce, Wellington

When:9.30pm Wednesday 24 February to Saturday 27 February. Door sales only. 

A great ensemble piece

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 03rd Mar 2010

Another show using music as a major part of its structure is Sarah Delahunty’s Medea Songs. In Euripides’ Greek tragedy, Medea kills her sons to avenge her husband who has passed her over for a younger woman. In Delahunty’s modern take the children aren’t dead but suffer as kids of abusive parents.

Clio (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) and Ajax (Te Aihe Butler) meet in a cafe and try to overcome their difficulties to form a relationship. Songs are used most effectively to convey the emotions they are struggling with.

Lizzy Eden plays Clio’s sister, Francine, with great relish, and cafe patrons, sitting around the set, are cleverly used as a modern Greek chorus. While some of the dramatic pauses become too drawn out, and clearer articulation is needed during the shouting scenes, this is a great ensemble piece.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

Age-old themes, powerful human passions and wise insights revitalised

Review by John Smythe 25th Feb 2010

Sarah Delahunty’s latest foray into contemporised classics draws from the Medea legend, most famously dramatised by Euripides.

A great sorceresses of the ancient world, she was the original ‘woman scorned’ whose fury exceeded that of Hades. According to some versions she wasn’t married to Jason; she just shacked up with him after she’d helped him steal her father’s golden fleece, possibly killing her brother as they escaped. Then when he felt he should officially marry a princess to better his prospects …

But rather than portray a modern couple in which the wife is so angered by her husband’s infidelity that she murders their children because that is what will hurt him most, Delahunty focuses on the children.

Clio and Ajax are not literally ‘dead’ but they have been badly damaged by parents who’ve been so preoccupied with hating each other and fighting, they have forgotten to be good parents. Then there are the step parents, or the parents’ next partners …  

Neenah Dekkers-Reihana and Te Aihe Butler are excellent in these roles, fully inhabiting the extremes of deeply embedded disaffection and desired affection and a range of states between.

The setting is a café, presided over from the periphery by Zeus. Reddyn Wallace unerringly captures his deep cynicism at the love mortals clearly have for pain and suffering given their compulsive perpetuating of it through countless generations.

A typical example of such human dysfunction is evidenced in Clio’s poisonous sister Francine – convincingly characterised by Lizzy Eden – whose every action and utterance is guaranteed to get up someone’s nose.  

It is Alice Sisley’s attentive, friendly and assertive waitress, Athena, who cajoles Zeus into giving peace and happiness a chance. Thus she gets to show how Francine mistook the past actions of Douggie – the Policeman (Jake Smythe), who has chased Ajax into the café – and how clearing it up may let love bloom.  

Mostly it is the five songs – composed by Butler and Dekkers-Reihana, who wrote the lyrics with Delahunty – that allow Clio and Ajax to express their bottled up feelings, confront and challenge each other, and work towards a convincing resolution.

Rian Kannemeyer plays Johnny, a sort of latter-day soothsayer (Tiresias-cum-Cassandra) whose prophecies are not believed, mostly because he seems drug-addled, deluded and dangerously volatile. He is also the drummer, with musicians Alex Stainton (keyboard) and Joseph Hoskin (guitar): an excellent combo.   

A chorus of Café People – Alice Lean, Ella Hope-Higginson, Adam Osborne-Smith and Ollie Humphries – provide stylised ‘Greek chorus’ commentary, a bit of musical chorus work and some character vignettes as a lively backdrop to the forground action.

Medea Songs is not yet as tight and effective as last year’s 2b or nt 2b. The opening ‘waiting’ sequence feels too long and the way the play moves in and out of passages from the original Greek drama is sometimes more confusing than illuminating.

The songs and music are excellent, very well sung in the full belt style beloved of the genre, and without any amplification what’s more. I don’t expect to speak for its target audience when I observe that it seems to be inevitable with musical theatre that songs sometimes dissipate the dramatic tension when I’d rather we got on with the story.

But nothing can detract from the fact that – as with such initiatives as the University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival – these young performers relate strongly to the age-old themes, powerful human passions and wise insights that drive this drama. And it is clear they share in – and so share with us – the efficacy of its ultimately life-affirming message.
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Make a comment

Wellingon City Council
Aotearoa Gaming Trust
Creative NZ
Auckland City Council