Medea – Review

Helen McCrory as Medea. Image by Richard Hubert Smith.
Helen McCrory as Medea. Image by Richard Hubert Smith.

It’s still relatively rare for women to kill their families so when it happens or, at least is contemplated, the story chills to the bone.

Medea, Euripides’ harrowing tale of a wronged woman’s terrible revenge, has been updated by Ben Power but is still an intense blood-soaked horror at London’s National Theatre.

Helen McCrory in the title role gives us one of theatre’s greatest tragic heroines – a woman prepared to do anything to keep the man she loves.

Through the stories of our childhood we’ve been indoctrinated to believe that Jason, he of the Argonauts and the Golden Fleece, was something of a hero.

But further on in his life and popular opinion describes him as a he-devil. Medea fell in love with him and had already slaughtered her own brother in order to be with the adventurer.

They later married and had two sons but the ambitious Jason decides that he must make another, more advantageous marriage, in his bid for political power.

Abandoned by the only man she has ever loved Medea plots a terrible revenge that brings about the appalling death of the new young bride and, horrifically, her ultimate sacrifice, the lives of her young sons.

Throughout the 90-minute production on the NT’s Olivier stage (no interval) we see the increasingly deranged Medea plot and scheme as her two innocent boys play at her feet.

The murderous mother initially appears in combat trousers and vest, smoking frequently and taking little interest in her sons who are left in the charge of a nurse.

She begs her husband to reconsider. She throws herself at the mercy of Kreon, the King of Corinth, to allow her to stay despite the planned royal marriage – but all to no avail.

Danny Sapani and Helen McCrory - Medea.

Danny Sapani’s Jason is more a suited and booted politician than heroic sea-captain. Years on land, living far from home, have produced an arrogant, scheming corporate-type who is at a loss to understand Medea’s pain.

As far as he’s concerned the marriage is nothing more than political manoeuvring.

This is very much McCrory’s show. She dominates every scene whether it is in faux subservience or raging at the gods to give her strength to carry out her heinous plan.

The final moments, when she appears drenched in blood after the terrible deed is done, are truly horrific. She seems uncomprehending of the awfulness of her crime.

Director Carrie Cracknell has made a wise decision to keep up the momentum and scrap the interval but I’m not so sure about the success of the, frankly, weird dance segments from the chorus.

Their strange twitches and tics left me bemused and puzzled. Was it something they ate I thought? (And what was Midsummer Murders’ Jane Wymark doing among the group of much younger women?)

Dominic Rowan seems wasted as the Athenian king, Aegeus, who is given just one brief scene – but could they spare more with all eyes on McCrory and Sapani?

Medea runs at the NT until September and will be screened as part of the NT Live initiative on September 4.

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