Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Medea - review

Written by: Alex Hiscocks (@alexislawl)

Richmond Theatre, London

I'm going to make a shameful confession: I was not familiar with Medea when I caught it at the Richmond Theatre. I knew it was a tragedy; a woman scorned after betrayal from her husband and that was about it. I was keen not to spoil the plot so made sure to avoid any synopsis so as to see it with an untainted vision, which I'm certainly glad I did. Mike Bartlett nobly adapts Medea for the modern eye and if you're even slightly interested in Greek theatre and tragedy, you'll be doing yourself a wrongdoing by missing this modernised take on an ancient text.

The first thing that strikes you from the outset is the excellent set, lighting and sound design. Ruari Murchison, Johanna Town and Tom Mills created a fantastic, almost tangible atmosphere and deserve credit for how seamlessly the performance progressed. The set would open up to a satisfying ‘swoosh’, revealing the impressive two-storey house that played host to the gory tragedy. It was clear that a lot of time, thought and effort had been put into every technical aspect of the show, which really showed. One particular sequence where our modern day Medea (played superbly by the fantastic Rachel Stirling) put her hand into a boiling saucepan of water was pulled off so convincingly that audience members cried out in audible, painful empathy.

Mike Bartlett aptly modernises Medea, taking the tale from ancient Greece to English suburb was no mean feat yet Bartlett pulls it off with ease. There were only a few moments where the modern text seemed to tussle uncomfortably with its ancient predecessor yet these were few and far between. At one particular point a character filled a gap in the plot, which was so obvious that it seemed a little jarring, and could've easily been done in a more subtle manner. Moments like this are to be expected when taking on the challenge of modernising the ancient lore of Greek tragedy; whilst some moments seemed rather contrived (especially the finale), there was little that could’ve been done.

Medea is a fantastic example of what a team of superbly talented actors, designers and an incredibly audacious, gifted writer can do to an ancient piece of classic theatre. Refreshing the classical tales of old through adaptation and modernisation is an excellent way to keep things interesting. Importantly, it’s a fantastic method of making these often difficult to digest playtexts receivable by those new or unfamiliar with ancient Greek theatre. Ideally suited for those new to the genre and more so to those looking to study it, Headlong Theatre Company’s rendition of Medea brings to the table an interesting and truly innovative spectacle for all to enjoy. Catch it now (before it goes on tour) at the Richmond Theatre - it’s only there till Saturday!

This production runs until 24 November 2012. 

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