Theatre Review: Medea

Medea – National Theatre, London

The announcement that the National Theatre would be staging Medea with Helen McCrory’s in the lead role filled me with excitement. I’m a huge fan of McCrory and think she is bar far one of this country’s best actresses.

I was only vaguely aware of the plot of Medea, a woman scorned, and the major theme of infanticide.

Euripides’ tale is not an easy one to contemplate, it forces the audience to consider whether a mother is really capable of plotting to murder her own children.
Medea is not just any woman though, she’s a well-known and feared warrior. Having previously killed for the man she loves, Jason, that very man has left her for a younger woman, leaving her in a state of increasing emotion and desperation.

I was impressed by Tom Scutt’s design of this new production by Ben Power, the full height of the Olivier stage is taken advantage of through the use of a split level set. Medea’s home, which she shares with her sons and their nanny (Michaela Coel) is on the lower level, complete with outdoor forest, which adds to the eerie feel of the play.
The level above houses the world her husband has left her for, where the wedding takes place. I thought the fact that this part of the set was always partially obscured was extremely effective.

Having two world coexist on stage at the same time meant that scenes could be played out simultaneously, when Medea tells the audience of her vengeful plans we can see the consequences unfold above her.

There’s a soundtrack from Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp which is utterly perfect. Melodic, rhythmic and palpable, it suits the mood of the play exactly, matched brilliantly by the unique choreography of the chorus of women who watch over Medea’s actions, it all becomes quite unsettling.

This production is just 90 minutes, but during this time the audience watches Medea’s struggle with the initial betrayal and then finally her growing desperation to exact revenge on Jason and his new bride.

With Carrie Cracknell’s direction, Helen McCrory is absolutely brilliant in the role. She demands the audience’s attention from the moment she walks onto the stage and is captivating throughout. The range of emotion shown in utterly convincing, from vulnerability with flashes of humour to desperately sad but with strength beyond measure.
The story follows as she becomes more determined to cause Jason the same pain as he has caused her, and even when there is a brief glimmer of hope provided by her friend Aegeus (Dominic Rowan, who simply wasn’t on stage long enough in my opinion)

The final scene is breathtaking, the perfect ending to such an intense and harrowing piece of theatre.

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