The National Theatre's production of Medea is based on a new translation by Ben Power. Written in c480BC by Euripides, this is the twenty first translation since 1891. In his plays Euripides represented mythical heroes as ordinary people placed in impossible situations. He was known as the 'most tragic of poets'.
He had a new approach to theatre, influencing both comic and romantic writers, including Shakespeare and George Bernard Shaw. He shocked his audience who were all male and played by an all-male cast. He treated his characters, in particular women, with sympathy. Sadly his work was mocked by his contempories.
The action is set in a dingy, modern day apartment. Jason, her husband, isn't much of a provider. Medea [Helen McCory] has murdered her brother and fled her country to wed and gives birth to two male children. Medea comes from a barbarian tribe and is a sorceress [not many around today]. Jason gets a better deal and decides to wed a rich, local princess.
Helen McCory is an award winning actor. Like all actors at the National Theatre, she is a star, but most importantly, a great actor. She is considered among the greats, Oliver, Gielgud and Dench and has played many diverse roles, including comedy.
Here she plays a she devil who has a love-hate relationship with her husband and psychics herself up with murderous intent. First come sorrow then rage followed by begging and finally revenge most horrible, premeditated murder. She reminds her husband many times of the sacrifices she has made and the dangers of child birth.
'Sooner would I stand Three times to face their battles, shield in hand Than bear one child'
This is the only weapon a powerless woman can use, but to no effect.
As if in her imagination, the wedding between her former husband and his princess take place above a split set. As does the brides horrible death and that of her father.
Jason [Denny Sapani] changes from compassion towards Medea, then anger, then he is full of unbearable grief.
Will Gregory's score builds up to a dramatic climax without overpowering the choreography by Lucy Guerin, which cannot make the same claim.
In the original play, Media flies away on her chariot. In today's version she walks away from us with her children over her shoulders in body bags. Is she mad or just a barbarian killer? It is left for the audience to ponder.
This isn't good theatre, it is great theatre and a must see. It is part of a series of plays filmed by the National Theatre and distributed around the world, the next being Skylight by David Hare in cinemas from 25th October.