The ancient story of the wildest and most passionate woman in theatre is a hard one to produce – how does an actress justify Medea’s revenge on Jason by killing her own children? How do you, as a theatre-maker, create a theatrical world where gods are the strings that pull everything together, and passion and blood rule?
Bringing it back to its Greek roots, the international theatre company Theatre Lab tackles Euripides’s tragedy using mesmerising theatrical images and atmospheric Greek music to accompany the gutsy drama unfolding in Riverside Studios.
Medea has been wronged by her husband Jason, who has married a princess to improve his social status. Leaving Medea and their children to exile, he abandons their history together and the fact she left her country and people for him to live a life amongst royals in Corinth. Medea wants justice, and as she is shown none from the people of Corinth, she takes matter into her own hands and plots a bloody vengeance against her husband. She will poison his new bride and everyone who touches her, and then kill her own children. Euripides’s epic drama explores the inner states of passion, love and vengeance, but also questions women’s place in society and what they are capable of.
The music of this production has a huge part to play in setting the tone for an ancient Greece where people are ruled by their passions. As a mesmeric underscore, music company Daemonia Nymphe creates a world of magic and mystery using mainly percussion instruments from the get-go. Maira Vazeou’s set design is incredibly imaginative and all objects serve a purpose, being manipulated and changed by the cast as the story unfolds. The play begins a bit unsteadily, trying to kick itself into a place of heightened energy, but it plods on slightly with the storytelling and furniture being moved a tad too much, overshadowing bits of the text. However, director Anastasia Revi’s vision is very clear and the images are hauntingly beautiful; when Medea’s plan is revealed, the pace picks up like a hurricane and the actors hit every note of the text with precision and soul.
Marlene Kaminsky’s Medea is feisty like a serpent and near animalistic, to a point where it’s hard to relate to the human side of her in the beginning of the play. But as the dilemma of her children’s murder come into focus, she shows incredible human emotion and a connection to the text that’s not only physically incredible to watch, but depicts a strong inner life. The chorus of Corinthian women accompanies the tragedy of this woman brilliantly, and creates beautiful theatrical pictures throughout the play with both singing and movement. Tobias Deacon’s Jason is provoking, chauvinistic and has no regard of others’ feelings; he takes such a carefree hold on the text that it becomes very dynamic and intriguing to watch, despite us not liking his character.
The images of this production are so rich, and loaded with meaning and life, that you feel enchanted and emerge in an authentic world of ancient Greece. The murder of Medea’s sons is strikingly painful to watch as she has a string of shoes hanging over her neck, symbolising a child being held by his mother as she strangles him. I found myself in tears. Revi’s image is pure genius, and is so strong and subtle at the same time that having the boys murdered off-stage will not seem a valid choice of staging after this.
It’s an incredible visual experience and Theatre Lab is such an exciting company, challenging the way we tell stories across cultures. Don’t miss out on their take on Medea – it’s Greek tragedy the way it should be done.
Medea is playing at Riverside Studios until 22 March. For tickets and more information, see the Riverside Studios website.