Selina Cartmell Interview

September 27, 2010

A jealous wife and mother, Two innocent children,A philandering husband, A house, A startling modern epic, If only it never happened like this… SIREN PRODUCTIONS present Euripides’ MEDEA in a new translation by  Scottish poet, Robin Robertson.Director Selina Cartmell speaks to Caomhan Keane

Why Medea? Is this something you’ve always wanted to do or was there something you saw in Robin Robertson’s version that particularly appealed?

It was a bit of both. It was a show that I’ve always been fascinated with. Just in terms of how you can make it work for today.  I went through a lot of translations and versions and I came across Robins and that was the one that really spoke to me. It felt really contemporary but yet felt connected back to the ancient Greeks. And that’s a very beautiful balance

What was it about Robin’s version that spoke to you?

It felt like a domestic drama as much as an ancient tragedy. So it could be an event that occurs on a Friday night down the road from you. And these things do happen today. And Robin’s version, the muscularity of the language, the darkness of the imagery… It was a beautiful translation.

You have an incredible cast, Eileen, Eleanor and Olwen. Did you have them in mind from the start?

I think all those women are incredibly strong and I don’t think they have ever been together on a stage together in the same play so that force of female energy was obviously very important to me, not only as a female director but directing such a female role as Medea.

Was there anything in particular about Eileen Walsh that made you see her as Medea?

I just think she’s a great actress. She has an otherness about her and a kind quality to her, which I think was crucial to Medea.

What kind of director are you. Are you didactic, entering rehearsals with a very clear vision of what you want? Or do you give your actors a free reign to create the characters themselves?

I’m very collaborative. It’s as much about what the actors bring to their parts as anything I can say. Its 90% casting.I mean if you fuck the casting up…it’s really, really difficult thing to make a piece work. It’s all about what those actors bring to the role.

I’m interested in the boundaries between art and life as well. For me it’s not about casting a character. It’s casting an actor or actress who can feed their experiences into that character as well.

You seem to take on a lot of these plays that need to be wrestled to the ground. That need a very firm directorial hand or they could spin out of control. Titus, Sweeney Todd and now Medea?

What attracted me to all that work is the idea of transformation. It’s not just about the violence, even though I am fascinated by that and how far extreme emotions can be pushed. There needs to be a pay off of , a transformative quality, for the characters, for the play, for the actors and for the audience. The tragedy is in the circumstances that lead to the transformation. So I’m more interested in that than in the blood and guts.

Robert LePage believes that it is this transformation that draws people to the theatre, to identify with it.

That is the role of theatre. Its unique role. When you go into that space and you experience what you experience you come out hopefully transformed. Even in a little way. It’s very rare that you do but when you achieve it, you can’t beat it. You can only aim for it. That’s the goal, you can’t promise it.

Why does Medea continue to endure itself to audiences? Is it because it deals with a crime most find unimaginable or is there something else there?

From a directors point of view its not just about infanticide its about the breakdown of a relationship and how when men and women collide, it’s almost like a boxing ring.

There’s the role of the chorus, who never intervene when they are in a position to. Why don’t they? Is it the mob mentality? How people go and look the other way?

She’s a survivor, a fighter and a warrior princess, her sorcery and her ability to manipulate and her huge intelligence you see coming through. She has to confront herself and through killing the kids she self-destructs. There’s a sense that she gets away with it and survives. A sense of immortality that runs form generation to generation.

Samuel Beckett Centre

22nd-26th of September



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