Medea, Richmond Theatre, November 2012

In the original Greek play by Euripides, Medea is a barbarian princess brought to Corinth by Jason as his wife. After he leaves her to marry the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth, her sexual and vengeful energy finds a way to burn up those holding power over the civilization she finds herself in.

In this modern tragic-comic version of the story by Mike Bartlett, Corinth is a small-town housing estate, Creon owns the house she lives in, and Aegeus, the king who offers her a safe haven to his city of Athens hoping she will help him father a child, is a man with a house in Spain.

Interior of the house

The fine designs by Ruari Murchison allow us to see the interior of Medea’s house, as well as its neat façade when the walls close up. At the end, where in Euripides’ original Medea ascends into the chariot of the sun god, the roof of the house opens and we see the full horror. It is all very cleverly done, with superb music and sound design by Tom Mills. Towards the end when Jason (Adam Levy) comes to see Medea on his wedding eve and try to settle things, she says, “I forgive you”, and the music stops dead. They go upstairs to her room, and the little boy in the next room wakes up. The designs allow us to see it all, and bring it alive as a modern drama.

Medea and her boy

Medea herself is brilliantly portrayed by Rachael Stirling. Clever, mercurial, narcissistic and appallingly low on self-esteem, the text even allows her neighbours Sarah (Lu Corfield) and Pam (Amelia Lowdell) the use of modern psychological terms such as, “She’s transferring her anger”. Her feeling of being an outsider is well captured when she complains about Sarah and Pam having known one another for years, when in fact they have only just met. The bitchiness at the beginning of the play pales into insignificance as things move on, and Medea’s barbed comments turn to a native cunning whose consequences catch us by surprise.

Jason and Medea

Rachael Stirling, whose mother Diana Rigg played the same role in Euripides’ play twenty years ago, gives a riveting performance of a woman who sees in the breakdown of her marriage a grievous insult to her own wit and intelligence. Other people are simple-minded clots, except for Jason, the landlord (Creon) and his daughter (Glauce), who will find everything they cherish burn to oblivion in the fire of her revenge. Her portrayal demands a visit to this intriguing production by the Headlong theatre group.

Performances continue until November 24 — for details click here — after which it goes to the Northcott Theatre, Exeter until December 1.

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