Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Medea

Magazine article The Spectator

Theatre: Medea

Article excerpt

Medea

Olivier, in rep until 4 September

Holes

Arcola Tent, until 9 August

Carrie Cracknell's new version of Medea strikes with overwhelming and rather puzzling force. The royal palace has been done up to resemble a clapped-out Spanish villa that seems to date from about 1983 if the kennel-sized TV set is anything to go by. (Weren't TVs massive then? And always brown.) The villa's peeling wallpaper and suppurating marble edifices form a balcony that straddles an eerie little copse, which manages to look both indoors and outdoors at once. These warring effects -- villa and forest -- do little to elucidate the play's simple story: jilted Medea avenges herself on love rat Jason by murdering their two sons and bumping off his new sex-bunny. Helen McCrory's Medea is terribly, terribly English while Jason is played by a black Briton, Danny Sapani. Odd that. Euripides had it the other way around. Jason, a local prince. Medea, a blow-in from the Black Sea or, in today's parlance, a Romanian.

Despite these muddles and own goals, the show is gripping throughout and never becomes earnest, obscure or boring, which, let's face it, Greek tragedy can often be. Ben Power's sinewy script carries suggestive echoes of Hamlet and Macbeth . McCrory (always at her best in frothy comedies) gives a riveting account of the beautiful and demented sorceress. Her final speeches, where she whips herself into a killing frenzy, are as absorbing and scary as anything in Shakespeare. The chorus is played by a dozen bridesmaids in weird robes of pink and black, a nicely disturbing combination. But I wasn't convinced by their zombie jerk-dances lifted from the Thriller video.

Other touches are more baffling. Medea assassinates Jason's wife by giving her a dress whose booby-trapped threads are laced with poison. It's a tough job for Clemmie Sveaas, as Kreusa, to don the toxic frock and then mime her agonised death throes while doing a funky striptease routine under a spotlight. It looks a bit Turner Prize. And the final moments are bathetic. The bloodstained murderess drags her slain progeny, emparcelled in two ketchupy sleeping bags, to the centre of the stage. She then hoiks them on to her shoulders and ambles off through the forest like a bin collector transposed into a Teutonic fairy tale. Unsupported by rhetoric, this wordless tableau looks banal.

And so to festivals. Are you a fan? I can think of lovelier fates than spending a weekend in a Home Counties refugee camp populated by 100,000 spaced-out nomads watching a bewigged great-grandfather paying off his alimony bill. …

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