Having endured over two thousand years of existence, Euripides’ Medea has once again entertained audiences this summer in a new and creative adaption of the Classical play. The notorious plot has resonated for millennia: grief-stricken and rejected, Medea murders her two children in an act of vengeance, thus spiting her estranged and unsuspecting partner Jason. But despite Medea’s lively production history and well-known plot-line, director Carrie Cracknell managed to bring a unique and modern adaption to the National Theatre. Incorporating a myriad of theatrical devices including chanting, dancing, and music by Alison Goldfrapp, the audience is subjected to a ninety minute continuous spectacle. Notably unique was the inclusion of an initially refined chorus, who descend into a chanting, jittering, fearsome ensemble, accompanying the plot’s demise into a tragic, harrowing, unforgettable piece of theatre.
The production lacked an interval which encouraged the audience to fully immerse themselves in Medea’s turmoil; her anguish was conveyed through her unkempt appearance, volatile temperament, and dependency upon nicotine. Pacing the stage and howling in a display of pure anguish, Helen McCrory evoked both utter shock and sustained morbid curiosity from the audience in what is one of her most gripping and praise-worthy performances yet. She fully voices the inner turmoil of a woman scorned, whose only hope of vengeance involves the eradication of all motherly instinct through the slaughter of those closest to her.
McCrory provides a wholly believable performance – such serious and unspeakable subject matter could easily render the protagonist insane – but instead the audience is compelled to sympathise wholeheartedly with her, and even understand her decision to kill her children. McCrory’s final exit involved dragging the bodies of her children in a bloodstained sleeping bag, and left the audience in stunned silence; a twenty second pause ensued before anyone dared to applaud.
Unfortunately, McCrory’s stunning performance was not matched by the supporting cast. Jason’s (Danny Sapani) reaction to the death of his children was puzzling; a small cry rang out as he crawled off the stage with his head pressed to the floor. His reaction was not nearly as heartfelt or pained as expected, and his strangely slow crawl to stage left was almost comical, undermining the drama of the situation. Similarly, the nurse (Michaela Coel) delivered an unsatisfactory prologue and epilogue. Her attempt at a ‘dramatic pause’ was ill-timed and overused, giving the impression that she had forgotten her lines. This was even more disappointing considering Euripides was famed for providing the low-class, downtrodden, and often forgotten members of patriarchal Athenian society with a voice. Far from vocalising the nurse, this production left some spectators wishing she had no dialogue at all.
Overall, the production was gripping and successfully left the audience speechless. However, the success of the play was predominantly down to Euripides’ enduring and timeless storyline which challenges our basic human instincts, and to Helen McCrory, whose emotional and encapsulating performance hooked the audience throughout, by far outshining the supporting cast.