Tuesday, 29 July 2014
Medea at The Olivier
Euripides’s Greek tragedy, Medea can’t really be termed an enjoyable play, dealing as it does with infanticide, but Carrie Cracknell’s production of Ben Power’s new version certainly makes it excitingly watchable. With Tom Scutt’s clever split-level design, modern dress and tone, and the powerhouse that is Helen McCrory in the title role, the National has triumphed yet again.
It is said that the best things come in small packages and as far as Helen McCrory is concerned this is certainly true. Tiny she may be but hey, does she pack a punch on the huge Olivier stage. She owns it, prowling the space like a lioness, making us never doubt for one moment that she is a female to be reckoned with, yet one who is having an enormous crisis of confidence. Despite carrying out an abhorrent act against her two boys, we know she has a mother’s love for them. But we also know she is a woman who has reached the limit of her endurance and believes killing her beloved sons is the only solution.
And what has driven her to this? Well a man is involved; strange that! He is her husband Jason of Argonaut fame (a self-satisfied Danny Sapani) who has decided to abandon Medea and his sons in favour of Kreon, the King of Corinth’s daughter. That she loves Jason is never in question. After all she helped him steal the Golden Fleece, betrayed her father and massacred her small brother all for him. And now he wants to dump her for a younger model, deciding that all he has to do to come out of the mess unscathed is come up with fallacious arguments. But Medea is not to be fobbed off and has revenge on him and all that is dear to him in mind. A woman scorned has never shown so much fury and Helen McCrory’s Medea is a formidable opponent. But this actress is nothing if not versatile, for the realisation that this revenge will mean her ultimate sacrifice is almost too painful to watch. But Medea is one brave woman, although the ending (spoiler alert) highlights her desolate sense of loss. Has it all been worth it?
Although it is Helen McCrory’s triumph, this production has sterling support all round. Tom Scutt highlights the gloomy sparcity of Medea’s lodgings, against the gaiety of the wedding celebrations, with his split level design and the upstage gloomy woodland adds to the feeling of menace that pervades the entire 90 minutes. Carrie Cracknell never lets the pace lapse, keeping our nerves on edge the whole time and by having the two boys on stage at the beginning and at various times throughout, adds to our horror of what we know is going to happen. The cast as a whole are excellent, although I’m not too sure about the jerky, almost robotic movements of the chorus. But this is a minor quibble, especially as they dance to music by the wonderful Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp, which aids and abets the feeling of unbelievable tension.
This Mediea is a Greek tragedy of the highest order.