A contemporary take on Euripides’ Medea by Chennai’s Theatre Nisha

A tale as old as time, the Greek tragedy Medea, originally written by Euripides in 431 BC, has been adapted, reinterpreted, and performed through the millennia. While two parts of its original trilogy have been lost in the sands of time, the narrative of Medea’s turmoil continues to reverberate and inspire contemporary theatrical renditions. Among such adaptations is Chennai’s Theatre Nisha’s bold and modern presentation titled ‘Why She Did, What She Did’, breathing new life into the ancient text.

Directed and performed by a multifaceted artist known simply as Shakti, this adaptation is the creative brainchild of V Balakrishnan of Theatre Nisha, complemented by the rhythmic undercurrents of percussionist Vishwa Bharath. The city of Chennai had the privilege of experiencing the play’s initial performances in December of 2023.

Plunging audiences into Medea’s psyche, Shakti embarks upon an exploration of a character that she sees as astoundingly relevant even today. “We would all like to think that we have moved on from the era when women were denied agency in their lives,” remarked Shakti from her residence in Chennai. “Unfortunately, the concept of a woman possessing agency is still a matter of contention in society. Ideally, I would wish for a world where Medea’s story is deemed irrelevant and dismissed as a mere myth, but the ongoing reality paints a different picture.”

Theater connoisseurs witness Shakti’s solo performance, where she is accompanied on stage solely by her percussionist. Seamlessly integrating her expertise in rhythm and movement as a trained theatre actress and dancer, Shakti’s rendition of Medea infuses dynamic artistry into the performance.

With twelve years of experience treading the boards, Shakti’s journey in theater began after completing a diploma in Movement Arts from Attakalari in Bengaluru, following her academic pursuits in marketing and English literature. Acting was always her calling, and her academic background enriched her creative talents, influencing her multifaceted approach to theater. “No matter what your field of study, it can enhance your creative abilities. Mathematics is numbers, much like dance and music involve rhythm and counts. Physics can deepen your appreciation and understanding of stage lighting and design,” reflects the 32-year-old actor.

Theatre Nisha extends its artistic reach beyond production; it also dedicates efforts towards shaping the next generation of actors through training programs in schools, colleges, and acting institutions across Chennai. Shakti and her team harbor a particular affection for the Bengaluru audience, which they plan to enthrall soon with their take on Medea. “I genuinely believe that the audience in Bengaluru possesses a remarkable insight into theater and the performing arts. Our group perceives the city as exceedingly accepting of the performing arts and appreciative of all forms of art. The audience there doesn’t just watch but actively engages with the art form, even when the themes are somber,” says Shakti, expressing her anticipation for the upcoming performances in the city.

This performance challenges traditional narrative structures, creating an intimate setting where the ancient story is retold with contemporary sensibilities and interpretations. It is an invitation to the audience not just to watch but to introspect, ponder, and connect with the raw emotions and timeless themes that Medea embodies.

In a world still grappling with issues of gender, power, and autonomy, Theatre Nisha’s portrayal of Medea offers a unique platform for dialogue and reflection, proving that the echoes of the ancient world still have a powerful relevance and a voice that demands to be heard. As the boundaries between the performer and the percussionist blur, so do the lines between the past and the present, reminding us that art is not only a mirror of society but also a hammer with which to shape it.

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