Medea

Euripides
Theatre Lab Company
Riverside Studios

George Siena as Creon, Charlotte Gallagher (Chorus), Denise Moreno as Glauce, Tobias Deacon as Jason, Laura Morgan (Chorus), Evi Stergiou (musician) and Spyros Giasafakis (musician), Marlene Kaminsky (above) as Medea Credit: Yiannis Katsaris
George Siena as Creon and Marlene Kaminsky as Medea Credit: Yiannis Katsaris
Marlene Kaminsky as Medea and Tobias Deacon as Jason Credit: Yiannis Katsaris

A play about a mother who kills her children to wreak revenge on a husband who dumps her for a new princess bride isn’t the easiest material to make sense of for a modern audience, but this translation by Ian Johnston, directed by Anastasia Revi, imbues that almost unimaginable action with a stark logicality.

It is a production that keeps a delicate balance between stylised action and real human feeling. Revi precedes Euripides’ text with a mimed scene of the royal wedding party for husband Jason and his new bride Glauce accompanied by the music of Daemonia Nymphe (Spyros Giasafakis and Evi Stergiou) which provides recurrent support throughout the drama.

Whilst King Creon and his guests celebrate around their banquet table, above them on a scena-like platform, stands a black-robed Medea. With her arms outstretched and her face turned to the wall, she is a motionless, dark portent of what is to come before leaving the stage as the play proper begins with Medea’s old nurse bewailing her mistress’s situation and Medea’s anguished cries from her room within.

It is here, having established a potent atmosphere, that the production briefly falters for Helen Bang’s histrionic rendering of this impassioned speech is delivered for dramatic effect, its sense disrupted. It is difficult to believe this woman has actually thought the things that she is saying—though fortunately that is corrected in the nurse’s later scenes.

After the beautiful fluidity of the banquet, there is a problem too in the chorus movement, arms at times awkwardly outstretched as they play the first scene. Both problems disappear as the play proceeds. Perhaps they were just the effect of first night nerves for one of this director’s skills is expressing ideas and emotion through physicality.

In this production, Revi even uses the furniture and its manipulation to express the conflict between its characters in skilful and expressive choreography that enlarges the impact of the powerful text. It says much for her performers, especially Marlene Kaminsky’s Medea and Tobias Deacon’s Jason, that they can handle such complex technical demands while still giving concentrated and riveting performances, using the physicality to enhance them.

Kaminsky’s tiger-snarling, viper-spitting Medea is sorceress as well as woman. Her bitterness consumes her, yet she reveals a glimpse of remaining physical passion for Jason. Her deliberations with herself when she conceives the idea of revenge through killing her children are given a cruel logic.

Tobias Deacon makes his Jason an uncomplicated character who easily puts the past and the blood debts he owes his first wife behind him. Shallow, thick-skinned and self-centred, there is little intelligence or feeling in this man’s skull but one gets the sense that with Medea it has always been a cat-and-mouse game with him the mouse and, now that he’s struck out on his own, he doesn’t see his danger. The original myth may have reflected the move from female to male dominance, but Euripides makes it still about gender politics.

With George Siena’s lean Creon full of caution and Denis Moreno, Laura Morgan and Charlotte Gallagher a clearly-spoken chorus, this is a production of Medea that is certainly worth seeing, though I question acting out the messenger’s description of the death of Glauce (Moreno) and her father unless you are going to match text more completely and for me Revi’s ingenious way of presenting Medea’s children did not quite come off.

Designers Maira Vazeou and Mayou Trikerioti give a sumptuous look that mixes modern and classical in the same way that the production uses elements draw from ideas of 5th century staging and contemporary performance.

Revi is not afraid to take huge risks. In the bold way that she stages Medea and Jason’s confrontation, they come off and she can also be more subtly effective as when the rattlesnake-like susurrations of maracas form a sinister accompaniment as Medea reveals her plan to murder Glauce and the chorus hugging balloons to their bodies suggesting pregnancy even as Medea kills her children.

Reviewer: Howard Loxton