Fury is playing as part of the ‘Who Runs The World? Girls’ Autumn Season at the Soho Theatre, and it starts off the run on an exceptionally high note. Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s newest play, which she has said has “a more ambitious political stance”, uses Euripides’ Medea to launch a critical exploration of societal alienation, in particular that directed towards young single mothers. Sam lives in a Peckham council flat, boxed in physically, emotionally, and socially. Tom is a graduate who lives above her, renting a flat he found on Zoopla for an extortionate rate. He is quietly sure of his own personal worth, and quick to judge the actions of others. His interventions into Sam’s life resemble something like help and concern, and sure, she doesn’t appear to be coping – but through another lens, these intrusions are viewed as something much more sinister. He is another person all too capable of disempowering her.
What Fury extracts from Medea and from Greek Tragedy in general is the multifaceted (and very effective) use of a chorus. While never distracting the audience from the precisely shifting power balance between Sam and Tom, the relationships Sam has to each of the three chorus members depicts the dynamic between her and various parts of society. There is no end to the way that this could be interpreted: the protective chorus member might represent a gently defensive but ineffective liberal approach to antisocial behaviour; the detached, sterner woman who offers support in the form of: ‘Well I’m coping’ could easily stand for the lower middle-class section of society who can claim less of a comfortable distance between their own and Sam’s situation. This was one of the writing’s greatest strengths: that it leaves so much for the audience to interpret, and therefore sustains a very high level of engagement throughout the play and after it finishes, too. Importantly, we as an audience are also represented which ensures our own culpability as members of society is not overlooked at the slowly unfolding tragic pinnacle of the play.
Sarah Ridgeway, playing Sam, performed impressively the different sides of Sam’s character. Her initial dominance of Tom is precisely and incrementally transformed into a position of submissiveness. The sinister underside to the character of Tom, played by Alex Austin, is brought out slowly and played with great subtlety. The fluency of the chorus’ interactions with Sam was in part due to the forceful and effective sound design by Nathan Klein. The repeated sung motif– Major Lazer’s ‘Get Free’ – was blended into an increasingly oppressive soundtrack which was never ominous in itself, but became so, as a result of its being consistently upbeat. I was equally impressed by Natasha Chivers’ lighting design. The glaring lights which hung low over the stage felt like manifestations of society’s glare.
In order to be memorable as a Medea-inspired play about motherhood among the many which have been seen over the last few years, I felt the play needed to take risks. Much of this play was understated – the simplicity of the staging, and the continually stifled violence – which was almost the risk in itself. It paid off, as by refusing to make any judgements on behalf of the audience, it therefore leaves them with much more to think about afterwards. This play, as the winner of Soho Theatre Young Writer’s Award, is deserving of the critical praise it has already received and is as thought provoking and intelligent a play as you would hope to see from this upcoming talent.
Fury is playing at the Soho Theatre until 30 July. For more information and tickets, see Soho Theatre.
Photo: Tristram Kenton