Medea, Dir: Mike Bartlett, Headlong, Citizens Theatre, Exeter Northcott 28 Nov – 1 Dec 2012.

As a Classicist, I came to Mike Bartlett’s production of Medea with a greater knowledge of Euripides than most. I took a module on Greek drama last year, and also directed my own version of Euripides’ Bacchae as the 2012 Classics Play. Perhaps it is this that made me disappointed with Medea, and it would have been perfectly enjoyable to someone else. But for me, the production ignored large parts of what makes Euripides’ play great, and left the portrayal of such an epic tragedy feeling rather shallow.

Rachael Stirling and Saul Curran. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

The translation moves the play from Corinth to modern day England, turning Medea from foreigner to “posh bitch from London”. An interesting interpretation but one that seems unjustifiably inadequate, as the remainder of the cast had accents equally as southern and posh as Medea herself. However, Rachel Stirling’s gripping portrayal of the child-killing Medea is highly commendable. She was incredibly engaging, driving the play forward and constantly maintaining the focus of the audience throughout; rarely does an actress pull off such a feat with a character this complex.

Rachael Stirling and Adam Levy. Photo: Manuel Harlan.

Unfortunately, this production removes the chorus and rather tragically removes the character of the Nurse. Without this fantastically sinister and yet loving relationship, Medea’s motivations are unclear, with no internal monologue and no conversations for her to explore her feelings of hatred and revenge for Jason, leaving her decision to kill their child (in this case a very adorable blonde child called Tom) ultimately unconvincing. Couple this with the destruction of the infamous ‘Women of Corinth’ speech (once used as a war cry during Suffrage) and unfortunately the exploration of the woman’s role in life is touched in a superficial way, nowhere near as powerful as Euripides intended.

One part of this production still baffles me and some fellow audience members to this day; who was the builder? As the audience entered the auditorium a pre-set builder put cement on bricks and slowly built a wall. He then wanders off stage. Occasionally he returns to the stage to have a cigarette or watch but never comment. Various interpretations come to mind; conscience? A god-like figure? Guilt? None of which seem to satisfy this character’s very being.

Ingenius staging, allowing two floors of the house to be seen at once.

Overall the production was entertaining; some fantastic comedic elements meant that the audience – in the case of Wednesday night a very enthusiastic audience – were very much enjoying the experience. Crude jokes, sarcasm and all those elements of comedy that we Brits love made the play enjoyable to watch. However, if you love your classical plays to be dark, devastating and tragic, this one doesn’t quite hit the mark.

Written for Razz by Daryl Hurst.


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