I’m afraid I can’t rave about this Medea
the way most people have. I’m not that well up on Classical theatre but I’ve noticed that I tend to prefer minimalist, timeless productions on a bare stage with bed sheets for costumes. I find, paradoxically perhaps, that such a treatment really brings out the relevance of the themes for our – and any – times; whereas setting it in modern times/dress often makes a timeless drama almost indistinguishable from a sordid news story or melodrama (Medea – When Cooking the Pet Rabbit just isn’t Enough!). It also makes suspension of disbelief rather more difficult: for example, I found the idea that Kreusa would have accepted the gift of a smart frock from her deadliest enemy without caution quite preposterous (as Medea issued instructions for delivery I found myself thinking ‘and perhaps you could drop this wooden horse off at Troy on the way’). Somehow such anomalies are not so glaring when the telling of the story is stripped down to the bare myth.
The performances were mostly decent enough. Helen McCrory was suitably intense in the title role. Dressed in t-shirt and combat trousers or a bright white dress she conveys the bubbling resentment and overpowering fury of the character very well. Less clearly depicted is the outrageous self-centredness of the character. The text tells us that Medea has betrayed and destroyed people close to her for the sake of Jason but the production doesn’t seem to invite us to consider the irony of her feeling hard done by when she herself is betrayed. Danny Sapani’s heartless Jason, by contrast, does seem to draw attention to his outrageous expectation that his wronged lover should have been grateful for being let down lightly when he betrayed her. I suppose it’s unsurprising, given my preferences, that I found the declamatory narration and commentary from the chorus members the most impressive ‘performance’ on offer. On the negative side I found Michaela Coel’s Nurse faltering and unconvincing and the stylised dance moves (mainly shivering and hip thrusting) that punctuated the action quite ridiculous. The set is not that wonderful, either. It’s a split-level effort with Medea’s abode on the apron backed by a sort of wilderness and Kreon’s palace (I presume that’s what it is, given that it’s the location of Jason and Kreusa’s wedding) upstairs on a balcony with much of the action there, including Kreusa’s donning of the fatal frock, hidden behind a barely translucent glass wall.
I don’t want to be too negative about this production – and a quick look at the press tells me I’m in a minority – but I had expected this to be the theatrical highlight of my latest trip yet, in the end, found a fringe production of an early Richard Bean play much more satisfying.
Only three more performances. All are sold out but the day seat scheme still applies – and my nephew picked up a standing ticket for Friday night’s performance with ease.http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/medea?dates#tabpos