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Photos: Richard Hubert Smith

Arts Review: Medea

‘THERE’S trouble come to the house of Kreon’. Those are the vengeful words that set this story in motion. This is Medea. The woman. She epitomises the Greek tragedy of womanhood. You don’t go to hear this story, not already knowing it.
You go to feel it.

On press night at the National Theatre the great Helen McCrory unleashed her tragic Medea to a predominantly female audience. The buzz before entering was something else; there was a hype and babble of excitement amongst press night attendees, which included the likes of Anna Maxwell Martin, Jenni Murray and Zoe Wanamaker, to name but a few. Yet there was also an undercurrent of nervous anticipation, most of the audience knew they would leave the theatre emotionally drained.

This ninety-minute adaptation of Euripide’s play still echoes the classic text as the chain-smoking Medea, full of anger and grief, howls and plots to tear her estranged husband Jason’s life apart. He has left her for the younger Kreusa, the daughter of the King Kreon of Corinth. He argues that this is to secure both his and Medea’s families socially and economically. For Medea, the only justification for Jason’s betrayal is for him to lose everything, including their children.

Medea's children are central to her plot to rid husband Jason of everything

Medea’s children are central to her plot to rid husband Jason of everything

Medea is more than a story about the vengeance of womankind; it is an exploration of the place beyond grief, isolation and desperation. Helen McCrory’s animal-like Medea evokes this as she pleads to the Gods to support her in her horrific actions. Her strikingly powerful performance as the complex heroine grips the audience as she commands the vast Olivier stage. She is wild and unkempt, her hair a mess as she viciously scrubs at her teeth, despite Jason bragging that he has ‘civilised’ her. By breaking her heart Jason has reversed this apparent transformation. McCrory’s performance is wonderfully volatile, from devious to murderous to heart-breaking humane.

Danny Sapani, who takes on the role of Jason, provides the perfect opposite to Medea’s blasting character. He is calmer, even in his anguish at the end of the play something still holds back. Kreon, King of Corinth (Martin Turner), Aeus, King of Athens (Dominic Rowan) and the Nurse (Michaela Coel) brilliantly fulfil their roles, yet like Sapani, bring a sense of calmness. Such an arrangement works to balance out McCrory’s emotionally drenched performance.

Tom Scutt’s brilliant split-level set is the ideal place to show the raging Medea, down in her peeling walled home below the wedding feast on the balcony. Towards the back of the set, the unnerving woodland is where Medea starts and where she ends, blood-stained, dragging her dead children away in their sleeping bags. The detail in this visually appeasing set works perfectly as the backdrop to reveal the tiny details of life and the expanse of emotions that spill from this play.

The echoing and haunting music, written by band duo Goldfrapp, emphasises the expressive physical performance of the chorus, the Women of Corinth, whose movements reveal the inner shakings of Medea’s torn mind. The women become unto their own, swept away by Medea’s raw emotional wave that floods the stage and auditorium.

Medea brings all elements of performance together in a triumphant and overwhelming ending. It brings the audience into a shadowy and captivating world that challenges your emotional logic and leaves you feeling rocked by the pure emotion on stage.

About Olivia Jeffery


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