Thursday, 7 August 2014

'Medea' at the National Theatre

I suspect Euripides would recognise the new version of his blood-soaked play despite the 21st Century language. The anger, passion and revenge are all there and the only thing missing are Zeus's thunderbolts splintering the stage. Yes, we saw 'Medea' this evening.

Medea follows Jason (leader of the Argonauts) to Corinth with their two children but he leaves her to marry a princess of Corinth and Medea swears vengeance. She is a witch queen, after all, and what she swears she will deliver. The play takes place on the day of Jason's marriage when Medea successfully kills the bride and the king (her father) and then, to strike directly at Jason's heart, kills her two sons. O yes, there is blood to spare in this play but that's not what it's about. Not really.

Medea is an early feminist, a woman with a mind of her own and the determination to make her wishes come true. Is that witchy magic or something else? She states that she would rather face battle with men than give birth again. She has been betrayed by Jason and will not put up with it - he will suffer in every way she can conceive up to and including killing his children. But that also rebounds on her since she gave birth to them in rivers of blood and their deaths push her into madness.

The play is only 90 minutes long but it's quite draining. The emotion the cast drag out of the audience is impressive and attested by the number of people delivering a standing ovation, particularly for Helen McCrory as Medea. And she deserves it - how can you deliver a performance of that intensity every night? I was drained by the end.

I wasn't entirely on-side with the set. The stage was the living room of Medea's house, the background was a woods and upstairs was the wedding reception room? What's that about? I sort of see what it was about but I'm not sure why it was needed. Trying to be all things to all people is fine so long as it works but it just confused me. Is what's going on upstairs important or just filler? Where am I supposed to be looking and what am I supposed to be looking at?

Whatever, I thought it was an excellent production and I left thoroughly drained. I'm still mulling over the feminism from two thousand years ago and how it's still relevant today. Euripides was a visionary. Go and see it.

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