Reviewed by James Karas
“Vengeance is mine; I will repay,” saith the Lord in the Bible. When He said that, the Lord may not have had Medea in mind. The vengeance she wreaks on her husband Jason goes beyond what most people can even imagine.
In 431 BC Euripides submitted his Medea to the City Dionysia dramatic competition in Athens and his play came in third. It has become one of the most frequently produced Greek tragedies and has been adapted numerous times. Ben Power wrote an adaptation for the National Theatre of Britain in 2014 and the production was filmed and is now available for streaming.
Carrie Cracknell directed a brilliant staging that brings out much of the power of Euripides’ tragedy enhanced by Power’s additions. Medea is a play about treachery and vengeance, about merciless murder and, worst of all, infanticide committed by a mother to punish her husband.
The complex role of Medea is handled by Helen McCrory in a bravura performance of extraordinary force. Medea betrayed her father and murdered her brother to enable Jason to steal the Golden Fleece from the “barbaric” city of Colchis. She fell in love with Jason and dedicated her life to him. He threw her over for another woman, the daughter of King Creon of Corinth.Helen McCrory as Medea
McCrory needs to express the gamut of emotions that Medea goes through. Her love for Jason turns into passionate hatred. She wants revenge. She has to cajole, plead and beg King Creon to let her stay in Corinth for a day. Her fury, hatred and vengefulness so well displayed by McCrory must be tempered with cunning for her to achieve her objective. She manipulates everyone around her and McCrory delivers every nuance of the complex character to perfection.
Danny Sapani’s Jason is man whose success in stealing the Golden Fleece was based on treachery and murder committed by Medea. Now it is he who commits similar moral crimes by abandoning Medea to marry the king’s daughter. It is for selfish reasons alone. He may have been brave but he is not particularly bright in his understanding of Medea’s character. He brings her a cheque and thinks she will appreciate what he is doing.
Clemmie Sveaas does a fine job as Creon, King of Corinth. He is a no-nonsense ruler who is afraid of Medea and simply wants to get rid of her. Tough as he is, Medea gets around him and commits her crimes.
Dominic Rowan as Aegeus, King of Athens, is a likeable, decent man who wants to help Medea escape from Corinth. He wants to have children and Medea promises to help him using her magical powers. However, she does not take any chances even with an affable friend and makes him swear to protect her.
The Nurse played well by Michaela Coel is the storyteller of the play but Power has provided her with some pedestrian prose that does not work particularly well.
Cracknell makes judicial use of the Chorus of Corinthian Women. Their number of lines are reduced but some are spoken and sung with music composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. There are several effective dance sequences choreographed by Lucy Guerin.
The single set by Tom Scutt consists of a living space for the main action and a raised level for some glimpses of events in Creon’s palace. Power and Cracknell emphasize the domestic side of the play but she does live at what looks like the edge of a forest. We see Medea’s children playing with toys, riding a tricycle and running to greet their father. In the end we see Medea dragging their dead bodies, wrapped in blankets onto the stage.
Power created a final scene of his own for Medea. The Chorus chants a brief dirge and Medea walks off the stage. I will not disclose any more details because the scene is worth seeing without foreknowledge. It is magnificent.
Medea by Euripides in a version by Ben Power, directed by Carrie Cracknell for the National Theatre in 2014 is available for streaming at https://www.ntathome.com/