Medea at @sohoplace theatre is a modern take on an ancient story of betrayal and revenge that has been shocking the public since the premier of Euripides’ Medea in 5th century Athens. Directed by Dominic Cooke, this new version, adapted by Robinson Jeffers, focuses on the female side of the story. It looks at Medea as a wife, a mother and a powerful witch, three sides of her personality leading to the famous tragic events.
The casting is the first proof of the focus on the female perspective. While there are more male than female characters in the story, we see only one male actor – Ben Daniels – taking on all male roles, including; cheating husband Jason, powerful King Creon, self-centred Aegus, and numerous others.
In 90 minutes of the show, Daniels barely ever leaves the stage, changing from one skin to another by swapping jackets and accessories. At the same time, many female voices are heard. There is Medea (brilliantly portrayed by Sophie Okonedo), her nurse (Marion Bailey), and three women of Corinth that spend most of the time in the stalls, speaking on behalf of all women in the audience. The audience is addressed as «women of Corinth», making all of us, no matter our gender, witnesses and judges of the depth of women’s power and desperation.
With @sohoplace theatre laid out in similar fashion to ancient Greek theatres, the audience is seated around the stage. The actors are seen from all angles, the smallest of their moves and actions under scrutiny.
It’s a suiting notion for Medea, who feels like she cannot avoid the city’s attention and speculation, as every person in Corinth knows who she is and what her husband has done to her. She tried to hide but grieve and bitter sorrow eat her alive. Creon’s decision to cast her out of Corinth becomes the final push that sets in motion her crazy yet logical revenge plan.
We follow her on every step of the journey: from seeing her emotional despair to her coming up to terms with her fate, imagining terrible plan, and bringing it to live step by step, coldly and boldly.
The set design and costumes are minimal, allowing us to focus on the emotions and gestures of the actors. The music and lighting help us to move between the rooms of Jason and Medea’s house, and travel across the city. As the revenge plot untwists, the city gets more and more gloomy. The ominous storm is coming, releasing into the pouring rain above the stage, with dark stormy clouds handing high in the air and constant rubble of thunder echoing the screams of Medea’s victims.
Eventually we reach the dramatic conclusion, the audience on edge, with electrifying silence in the air. I am sure the tension we feel can compare to shock the play caused in the audience during its original performance all those centuries ago. Medea at @sohoplace theatre is a powerful and relevant adaptation that will leave you torn and aching for more.
Medea is at @sohoplace until 22nd April 2023