Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Medea is a difficult one to pull off. On first viewing, it’s easy to play Jason – the protagonist’s husband – as something of the villain – after all, broadly speaking, once Medea secures his success, he trades her in for a younger model, and she, Medea, is cast adrift. Medea is understandably upset, but the revenge that she ultimately feels she is forced to take at the end of the play splits the audience right down the middle. It is a play, on initial glance, that does not lend itself to shading between light and dark.
This production is not a revolutionary take on the myth – that is to say, Jason is played, if not as a villain, then certainly as a self-centered political climber (although the performance veers perilously close to David Brent at times), and Medea is a frustrated, vengeful figure who is, as much as anything else, confused and dismayed by the harsh hand that has been dealt her. All the events take place in the courtyard outside the home once shared by Jason and Medea, and visually, it’s not any different from many other productions you’re likely to have seen, performed as it is ‘of the time’ – although when Jason turns up, it’s in his wedding morning suit, neatly suggesting that he’s had to come straight from the service in order to placate his now ex-wife.
It’s a clear, concise translation, and appropriately, the performances match that. All the male visitors to Medea are played by the same man. Whether this comes from a logistical need to whittle the cast size down is irrelevant: it reinforces Medea’s sense of isolation and abandonment: it’s her alone against the rest of the world. Creon, Thesus and Jason are played with similar shading – all officious, alpha males walking and talking in absolute assurance of their own supposed superiority.
In a similar fashion, the Teacher, Nurse and Messenger (all female parts) are all played by the same actor, and in essence are depicted as the same character. Mostly, this works, even if later it doesn’t make a great deal of narrative sense (at one point she expresses surprised horror upon hearing about an event she’s already told us about), and this is in large part due to the charisma of the performer, whose task within the play, after all, is to tell us exactly what’s going on.
While it’s true that the production opens with the sound of wailing, this production steers mercifully clear of all such clichés for the most part, and tells the story straight. So straight, in fact, that it’s clear who we’re meant to be rooting for, even if the text is somewhat more complicated than that. In the end, though, this is clear, direct and involving theatre.