Posted by Laurence Green

Laurence Green rues an updated version of Medea, which turns Euripides' powerful tragedy of female vengeance into a rather mundane domestic drama.

Medea at Almeida Theatre

The third and final play in the Almeida's Greek tragedy season has been updated into a bitter battle of the sexes in Rachel Cusk's disappointing modern take on Euripides' Medea.

The action has been transplanted from ancient Corinth to an uncomfortably familiar world in which the chorus consists of aspirational mums who prattle about property prices and almond croissants. Medea here is redefined as a writer spurned by her husband, recast as an actor, in favour of a younger woman. Their two children, products of the union of their bodies, are caught in the middle of this rapidly disintegrating marriage and Medea is acutely aware of her shifting social status, ageing and being cast out and drifting towards obsolescence.

Cusk has turned this powerful tragedy of female vengeance into a rather mundane domestic drama encompassing the searing torments of divorce - the acrimonious wrangling, the bleakness of it all and the futile rhetoric about moving the children. Furthermore, she deviates from the original story by Medea abandoning rather than murdering her children, and for some inexplicable reason, introduces a cleaner who seems to be constantly polishing their chic, soon to be sold, home.

The play ends in a strange and unsatisfactory fashion, in which the androgynous figure of the messenger (Charlotte Randle) narrates his/her way through major segments of normally meaty drama, reeling off rhyming couplets which never quote capture the impact of the source material.   

Ian MacNeil's two-tier set of imposing wooden walls, concrete flooring and steel trimmings gives the drama a cold, rather sterile feel.

What lifts the production is the chilling intensity Kate Fleetwood brings to the role of Medea. She can be icy, frantic or contemptuous, eyes darting razor sharp looks from her feline-like face, as she lets rip with a verbal barrage aimed at her faithless husband. Justin Salinger gives a convincing performance as the smug and deeply dislikeable Jason.

But although Cusk has savage things to say about marriage, parenthood and the corrosive effects of the midlife crisis, Rupert Goold's production fails to stir the emotions!


Plays at the Almeida Theatre until Saturday 14 November 2015

Box office: 020 7359 4404

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