Given the acres of space on the Olivier stage to work with, Carrie Cracknell has decided wisely that her production of Euripedes’ play, centring on a woman who is, in effect, an ancient Grecian serial killer, could never be an intimate character study. Instead, she uses the space to paint a vivid, sometimes balletic, picture of insanity and its consequences. The time is vaguely modern day, the two-level set is the interior of a palatial mansion which is vaguely art deco period in style, there is a chill in the air from the onset and the audience are distant onlookers who are never meant to be drawn too closely into the drama. Consistent with this interpretation, Helen McCrory gives a technically accomplished performance as Medea, but allows us little insight into her character’s emotional turmoil. Like many women through the ages, she has been kicked out by her husband in favour of a younger model, but the disproportionate nature of her revenge and the knowledge that she is already a double murderer forbid us to sympathise with her, only to pity her madness. Michaela Coel and Danny Sapani give excellent support, but where this production scores most is with its visual impact. As the heinous deed approaches, the two innocent children sit playing on swings in front of an idyllic forest, waiting for their mother to appear behind them. Often, an all-female chorus appears to heighten the tension, at one point gyrating together to the sound of pounding drums as if at a rave party. Also memorable is the atmospheric music, composed by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. Ben Porter’s new version of the play is lucid and concise, spanning just 90 minutes, but the Greeks always knew how to deliver intense drama without diversions. In all, this is a production which, if not exactly moving, is always impressive.
Performance date: 25 July 2014