In 1978, Julia Pascal became the first-ever woman to direct at the National Theatre. She’s astounded that, 40 years on, women are still fighting for equality of voice in theatre. But she’s continuing to make her own case with her latest play Blueprint Medea. We discussed inspiration, Kurdish freedom fighters and multi-cultural casting with her. Time to get booking!
Blueprint Medea, written and directed by Julia Pascal after Euripides, has a limited three-week season at west London’s Finborough Theatre, running from 21 May to 8 June 2019, with press nights on 23 and 24 May.
Kurdish freedom fighter Medea escapes the Turkish military and arrives at UK Border Control on a forged passport. Slipping through immigration, Medea discovers how to exist on the margins of London life. Working illegally as a cleaner in a gym, she meets Jason-Mohammed, the son of Iraqi immigrants. Their attraction results in the birth of twin boys. Medea believes that she has finally found a new home, a new family and a new life.
But when Jason-Mohammed’s father decides that his son must marry Glauke, an Iraqi cousin, Medea realises that she will lose both her sons and her safe haven in the UK. As her whole world falls apart, she is forced to accept that she has nothing to lose by revenging herself – destroying the lives who those who have betrayed her and keeping her sons’ spirits with her forever…
Ruth D’Silva stars as Medea opposite Max Rinehart as Jason. They’re joined in the cast by Tiran Aakel, Shaniaz Hama Ali and Amanda Maud.
In addition to Euripides, the title character is also inspired by Asia Ramazan Antar, the real-life Kurdish Women’s Protection Units fighter who became a symbol for the feminist struggle in the Rojava conflict and in the Kurdish fight against ISIS in Syria. After photos of her went viral online, she was dubbed the “Kurdish Angelina Jolie” because of her resemblance to the Hollywood actress. Antar was killed during a suicide attack in Manbij, Syria on 30 August 2016.
Talking to… Julia Pascal
Award-winning playwright and director Julia Pascal trained and worked as an actor before coming to public attention as the first woman director at the National Theatre with Men Seldom Make Passes, her adaptation of Dorothy Parker’s writings, which ran for two years as a Platform Performance.
Her many other plays include The Holocaust Trilogy, The Yiddish Queen Lear, Woman In The Moon, The Golem, St Joan, Year Zero, Honeypot, Nineveh, Crossing Jerusalem, The Shylock Play and Old Newland, which have been seen internationally including France, Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Ireland and in New York City. She has directed new writing by Seamus Finnegan, Carole Rumens, Melanie Phillips and Yana Stajno, as well as revivals of works by Harold Pinter, Howard Brenton, Bertolt Brecht and Fay Weldon. Pascal Theatre Company is currently funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund for the project Discovering and Documenting England’s Lost Jews.
You were the first woman to direct at the National. Can you tell us more about that?
I was a member of the National Theatre acting company in 1977. Encouraged by associate director Michael Kustow, I adapted Dorothy Parker’s stories and poems as a cabaret-style Platform Performance which I directed. It was highly successful and ran until 1980. Peter Hall spoke admiringly of it in his Diaries, but he was irked that the press picked up on my being the first woman director. This provoked the question about lack of equal representation and the issue is still current in 2019.
How do you think theatre is doing in terms of gender equity in 2019?
It does amaze me that women still have to agitate for equality of voice and presence in the public arena. Theatre is a political space and yet, in our national theatres, women are still a minority. This is astounding to me. I believe that state subsidised theatre should require gender parity. Arts Council funds, which subsidise theatres, come from women’s taxes and there is a phrase – no taxation without representation – that seems apt.
Where did the idea for Blueprint Medea come from?
Many of my dramas are inspired by interviews. I have worked as a journalist and live testimony is the driving force behind my texts. This play came as a result of a meeting with a refugee who has been in the PKK (the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, which is Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê in Kurdish) and had fled Turkey for safety in England. She was escaping prison. Previously, she had been tortured. I developed what she said to create the character of Medea.
What are your own thoughts on Asia Ramazan Antar & the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units
Certainly, I admire Asia Ramazan Antar and the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units. They are heroines who put their lives on the line to establish female independence as well as fighting for a Kurdish state.
Why do think ancient classics like Euripides’ Medea can still speak to us today?
I became interested in Greek myths as ways of telling women’s stories. Euripides’ Medea is a foreigner who is fearless. Imagining her as a contemporary Kurdish soldier felt organic. The structure of the myth underpins huge questions about the Middle East and how the struggles that are going on in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria, can be reflected in this London drama. I am interested in how immigrants carry another country and history with them on to the London streets.
Tell us about your cast.
The cast is a cultural mixture of Kurdish, Anglo-Indian, Yemeni, Chinese, Muslim, Jewish, Christian. The mosaic of such a variety of cultural connections brings a great depth to the production.
Why should audiences see Blueprint Medea?
Audiences will be excited by the production because it explores how the classical and the contemporary can make a stimulating theatrical event that has music, dance, text, politics. It speaks to anyone who has been a daughter, son, father or mother. If it is believed that women can only write domestic dramas, then audiences should come prepared to have this conception smashed!
Blueprint Medea runs from 21 May to 8 June 2019 at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED, with performances Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3pm. Tickets are priced £10-£20. CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!