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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Olivier Theatre  Summer 2014

It may be Ben Power's new adaptation of Euripides, but I can't remember a production of Medea that so repeatedly, insistently and explicitly hammered home exactly what was going to happen by the end of the play. (Spoiler alert until about two minutes into the play: she's going to kill her children.) 

Whatever other interpretors have found, to Power, director Carrie Cracknell and actress Helen McCrory this is a play about inevitability.

It's not the inevitability of Fate or the gods, though, but of a thoroughly rational but almost certainly insane mind that has thought everything through to the conclusion that not only is one course of action right, but it is the only possible choice. 

Deserted by her husband after she sacrificed everything for him, and too strong a woman to be capable of acting the victim, McCrory's Medea begins from the axiomatic assumption that she will fight back. 

From there it is a small step to deciding on the means, however horrific, and from there she never wavers or reconsiders. 

It is madness, of course, and the most convincing and most modern-feeling quality in McCrory's performance is the way she carries herself with the clear, never self-doubting conviction of one who literally cannot imagine acting any other way. 

Other than that, the choice of a modern-dress well, perhaps mid-20th Century design adds little, and director Cracknell has particular trouble fitting a Chorus into a modern setting. 

And the one limitation of McCrory's performance is that she doesn't achieve (as I remember Fiona Shaw doing a dozen years ago) the double vision of being both modern and classical, both soap opera housewife and tragic figure. 

It's no real criticism of McCrory to say she remains a Greek tragic heroine who happens to be wearing modern clothes. But it would have been so much more powerful if she and the director could have taken more from the modern setting to add to the characterisation. 

Danny Sapani makes Jason appropriately dim, self-centred and ridiculous, and no one else in the cast makes much of an impression. A brutalist soundscape by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp adds to the darkening tone, and while attempts at dance and stylised movement for the Chorus of housewives don't work, an ominous tango for Jason and his new bride does. 

Classical students know that Euripides' play ended with the original deus ex machina, a twist that Ben Power removes, putting in its place a closing image that scarily evokes both Mother Courage and true insanity.

Gerald Berkowitz

Review - Medea - National Theatre 2014  
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