Marriage as Consumption in Unspooled Theatre Collective’s ANTE/MEDEA

Unspooled Theatre Collective’s ante/medea, produced by Arky Ryall and running from Oct 10 to Oct 14 as part of Melbourne Fringe 2023, delves into Medea’s psyche.


Medea is an endlessly compelling figure from Greek mythology: descended from gods, by turn a maiden and a witch, a wife and mother and murderer. Unspooled Theatre Collective’s ante/medea, produced by Arky Ryall and running from Oct 10 to Oct 14 as part of Melbourne Fringe 2023, delves into Medea’s psyche. Medea is played commandingly by Bianca Galvin; around her are her husband, the restless Jason (Cassidy McCredit Pledger), along with impulsive Heracles (Declan Magee) and cynical Atalanta (Eleanor Golding). These are compatriots from her days out at sea, each heroes in their own right who must now adjust to life post-heroism. Dual writer-directors Laura Charlton and Sabina Donato pull at the gaps in extant literature, playing with and pulling at the Classical canon. It’s certainly an enticing concept; I found the result thoroughly enjoyable, on the brink of being fantastic.

Staged in Studio Theatre in Gasworks Arts Park down in Albert Park, ante/medea used a small, minimalist stage to place the focus thoroughly on the jealousies and insecurities of the play’s characters. Set designer Caoimhe Harkin populated the stage judiciously and effectively, with just a table on stage left and a tall, arched monument as a centrepiece. This monument provides steps for Medea to perch upon in early scenes, as well as what appears to be a window covered with foil, through which striking silhouettes are available on the other side.

Three curtains in the background effectively washed the stage in white and captions cast on stage right were a fantastic accessibility element (with access needs carefully overseen by Nina Adams). The nature of these captions needing to be visible did often detract from the action unfolding elsewhere on stage, a balance to be honed over future productions. These captions proved useful with audio technical difficulties on opening night. A sound of waves crashing, followed by a chime–a fantastic distillation of life on the ship the Argonautica–heralded the opening scene changes, and unfortunately never appeared again.

After enjoying the production team’s HAML3T last year, I was keen to see them take on the figure of Medea. Full disclosure–Shakespeare’s Hamlet is a very significant text for me, whilst I approached Medea with background knowledge but a lesser degree of familiarity. Here, there was enough to carry me along, but both times I have wondered about leaning so heavily on familiarity with source material being built upon. Time skips in ante/medea are not indicated directly to the audience, whilst frequent reference to mythic deeds only bore significance at all with pre-existing knowledge or any contextual clues that came up. This frequently meant a break in immersion across the sixty-minute run time.

Nevertheless, the writing itself is fantastic. The monologues in particular harbour some brilliant, vivid imagery, whilst dialogue is filled with witty repartée and later some delicious, electric toxicity. The show’s blurb promises that “ante/medea [...] breathes intense, complicated life into the negative space between The Argonautica and Medea” in the leadup to the dramatic events of Medea immortalised in Euripides’s tragedy of the same name. It is clear that the writers have pored over both The Argonautica and Medea and their characters, picking at the insecurities and flaws of these characters. Opening scenes between Medea and Jason, Heracles, then Atalanta establish their dynamics with ease, whilst a scene of the four interacting out at sea is a stand out with its easy banter and strong sense of chemistry between characters. Medea’s proclamation that marriage “consumed me and spat me out and now I’m alone” rings in my memory, a strong thesis statement for this rendition of her character; the metaphor of “getting off the water” is a similarly striking summary of the rift between Medea and Jason. 

The script gave the actors a lot to chew on, and all four did a commendable job as young actors taking up the mantle of four figures who have long and involved lives both within the text and in the cultural imagination. Galvin as Medea was exceptional at commanding space and attention, whilst Golding was delightfully witty as Atalanta, fed up with men and with society at large. At times, the line readings felt a little more rehearsed than natural reactions to the play taking place, perhaps a sign of opening night nerves. Still, Galvin, Golding, McCredit, Pledger and Magee inhabited their roles well, each clearly connected with the intentions of both the writers and their characters.

Strong character work was supplemented by costume design from Oliver Hall. These were simple wardrobe pieces that felt carefully curated, from Jason’s brown suit pieces embodying his insecurities to Heracles’ plaid to Atalanta’s simple monochrome wardrobe, later offset by a stunning leather trench coat. Medea’s silk green shirt was offset by details such as impeccable gold nails and leather heels, effectively marking her a strong and imposing heroine, who cares deeply about how she presents herself to the world. Truly, this was great work from Hall.

In all, the material here is very strong. At times, it does feel like an exercise in executing a concept, reminiscent of Carson’s more radical reworkings of tragedy that I have read in playscript form–Antigonick, Norma Jean Baker of Troy–and indeed a quote from Carson provides a tagline for ante/medea in promotional copy. With a final push, it would be spectacular. As it is, ante/medea is a worthy, effective piece of amateur theatre. Medea and Jason coming down hand in unloveable hand, as they say. Unspooled Theatre Collective’s bold reimaginings of canonical stories and plays are exciting, pulling at the strands contained within and I am eager to see what this group takes on next.

Farrago's magazine cover - Edition One 2024


It’s 2012 and you have just opened Tumblr. A photo pops up of MGMT in skinny jeans, teashade sunglasses and mismatching blazers that are reminiscent of carpets and ‘60s curtains. Alexa Chung and Alex Turner have just broken up. His love letter has been leaked and Tumblr is raving about it—”my mouth hasn’t shut up about you since you kissed it.” Poetry at its peak: romance is alive.

Read online