Medea (review)

If you want a masterclass in how to make the classics accessible and understandable to modern audiences then look no further than Mike Bartlett’s powerful interpretation of Euripedes’ tragedy, Medea.

This harrowing story, about a mother’s revenge on the husband who walked out of their marriage, has opened at Watford Palace Theatre to well- deserved critical and public acclaim.

I came out after the first night and spent the following hour having a lively conversation with three divorcees in the theatre bar who could all identify with the central character.

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What came across is that the breakdown that Medea suffers after the collapse of her relationship with husband Jason is, sadly, all too familiar.

There seems to be a never-ending series of stories in the national press about men (it usually is the men) who slaughter their children following the disintegration of their marriages. Women can’t understand the compulsion, it’s too horrifying to contemplate.

But in Euripedes’ world there is no gender-specific crime. His leading lady, Medea, comes across as a striking and physically intimidating woman but she’s emotionally crippled and unable to cope.

Rachael Stirling follows in her mother’s footsteps in playing the part of Medea. Diana Rigg gave us a more traditional interpretation of the role 20 years ago but both women succeed in creating a chilling and complex character.

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Bartlett sets his story on a modern private estate where every house looks the same. Medea has withdrawn from the world and relies on others to care for her son, Tom, who has been mute since his dad left the family home.

Medea is an outsider. She gave up everything to marry Jason and is now stranded, angry and bitter in the sanctuary of her home. She’s pitched over the edge after learning that Jason is remarrying and that she is being evicted.

There are a couple of traumatic scenes, which make the audience gasp, and a truly shocking finale.

As a story about broken relationships there can be no better.

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Stirling commands the stage with a compelling and, at times, terrifying, performance but the consensus among my new friends was that the distraught mother ought to get a grip and go on with her life and that moving from the marital home was to be encouraged (we sounded like a meeting of agony aunts to be sure).

A word about designer Ruari Murchison stunning set. The house façade opened up like a doll’s house to reveal the internal rooms and was seriously impressive.

Medea is thought provoking and provocative and there’s no doubt that the students, who were among the first night audience, will be talking about the production long after it moves venues.

Playing at Watford until October 27. For tickets call the box office 01293 225671 or go online COX

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