Scary Medusa wasn't such a monster after all, says Helen

Rehearsed reading of Medusa at Cast in DoncasterRehearsed reading of Medusa at Cast in Doncaster
Rehearsed reading of Medusa at Cast in Doncaster
Rehearsed Reading of Medusa, Wednesday, Cast, Doncaster

Sheffield writer Helen Mort has been looking beyond the scary hair and eyes of one of the most famous monsters of Greek mythology for a new play.

Helen thinks that Medusa has had a bad deal. She said: “Everyone’s got this idea of the monster Gorgon with the deadly stare and snakes for hair.

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“The way I’ve chosen to portray it, her background is that she’s actually a victim. She was raped by the god Poseidon and punished for that.

“It struck me that there’s quite a lot of resonance in that with contemporary issues about the way we treat victims, saying that they are asking for something that happens to them.

“I am exploring that side of her story and looking at the idea of what we mean by monsters. We see her transformation and what happens to her.”

For her, the story is timeless as it reflects how women are punished for terrible thiungs that happen to them, sometimes by other women.

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In one version of the myth, Medusa is cursed by the goddess Athena, who takes out her fury on her because she was raped in one of her temples.

Helen is best known as a poet and this is her first play, a collaboration with Proper Job Theatre Company.

The play includes poetry and songs and is set in the modern day, although Helen says it has a futuristic feel, too.

She said: “It’s a real mixture of different forms and genres. It’s quite surreal and I’ve really enjoyed that challenge of working in a new medium.”

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Helen, who spent a lot of her childhood in Chesterfield, said she was first inspired to write plays by visiting the Crucible Theatre as a youngster with her mum.

“What I wanted to do from then was write something for the stage,” she said. It’s been a long time until she could achieve that childhood ambition, though.

“It’s been a very different experience,” said Helen. “As a poet, you have control over how you present things. This has been more like a conversation between me, the theatre company and the director, back and forth.

“You have to get used to people interpreting your scripts quite differently or cutting things out.

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“You need to have to not be precious and you’ve got to leave a lot for the actors to interpret. That’s not something I usually have to think about, you’re writing for your own voice.”

She said it has been both exciting and daunting to see the reactions of audiences who have been to the rehearsed readings of the play as it undergoes development.

Helen has published her poetry and her first collection, called Division Street, was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards and the T.S. Eliot Prize.

She said: “Poetry has always been the way I’ve liked to express myself. I’ve always been interested in the sound of words.”

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She has just completed her first novel and has written short stories, too.

Keen climber Helen lives in the Peak District now but spends a lot of time in Sheffield as she finds all high places inspiring.

She said: “There are a lot of places in the city where you can stand up somewhere and look down.

“It’s something that’s always appealed to me.”