MEDEA | STAGE REVIEW
Tues 6 Nov
Words: Chelsey Gillard
Headlong Theatre’s take on Euripides’ Greek tragedy holds a lot of potential: transferring the action to modern day suburbia allows writer and director Mike Bartlett to explore some thought provoking themes surrounding gender and infidelity. However, it never quite hits home as the restrictive (albeit admirable) tendency to stick closely to the original play denies access to the truth and passion needed for such a powerful plot.
Medea (Rachael Stirling) our ill-fated protagonist is trapped in her marital home, having abandoned a successful business career in London to start a family, she herself is now abandoned by her husband Jason (Adam Levy) who has embarked upon an affair with his co-worker. Months later we discover Medea as an unwashed, desperate woman during the run up to Jason’s new wedding day. Her son won’t speak to anyone and her neighbours think she is a crazy woman, leading a self-indulgently depressed lifestyle.
Unusually the first commendation must go to Ruari Murchison’s fantastic set design. All the action takes place around Medea’s home; from the outside we see printed screens showing us her two-up-two-down fortress sandwiched between the neighbours. Slide away panels reveal her clinical, Spartan home (Ikea would be proud to showcase in one of their adverts). Being in her kitchen, her living room and bedrooms provided a touch of realism but also gave the sense of watching the inhabitants of a particularly sadistic child’s doll house. The sophisticated design was more restrictive than perhaps it was worth as rearranging the set sometimes led to the use of silent “passage of time” scenes that were clumsily navigated and added nothing to the experience.
Stirling provided a strong Medea, but the language flip-flopped between convincing conversation and overly ornate pronouncements, stopping the actors reaching any real emotional depth as there wasn’t any consistency. Having said that, Medea’s speech addressed to her voluntarily mute son Tom was genuinely touching, it was stripped back and heartfelt, Stirling proved she is a force to be reckoned with.
The biggest triumph of the adaptation was transforming the Greek chorus into Medea’s neighbours who each added something new and genuine to proceedings. In other places unduly obvious references to the original text – especially the hastily delivered end – will have even the casual reader of Euripides groaning.
By far the biggest challenge of staging Medea is trying to access the raw emotions of desperation and betrayal that would force a mother to kill her children. Unfortunately when Medea took an axe to her son it was completely unbelievable, especially as she was holding the axe in the hand she had previously made lame by deliberately scalding it in boiling water.
There needed to be more: more time to explore the huge potential of the production, more real emotion, passion, jealousy and much more truth. This production of Medea was frustratingly on the brink of something brilliant.
Medea is on tour across the UK until 1 Dec. For info: www.headlong.co.uk