NT Live: ‘Medea’

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Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned. That is most definitely the case as Helen McCrory takes the stage in Ben Power’s adaptation of Euripides classic play Medea. It is an age old story that has been adapted for centuries yet still resonates in our society today. The tragedy follows a single mother coping with the loss of her unfaithful husband by attempting to get revenge on him. It explores what happens when the loathing of someone is stronger than the love for your own children so much so that it brings to light a taboo that no one wants to accept happens; mothers murdering their own children.

With such a disturbing narrative, the play’s disconcerting atmosphere is intensified through the use of the scenery most significantly a fog ridden forest. However what truly exemplifies the tragedy is the chilling performance given by the cast members. McCrory’s regal persona strongly emphasises Medea’s royal connection to the king of Colchis and adds an emotional ferocity to the character in which her exile from her own father and country and the abandonment of her husband; Jason (of the Argonauts) causes her ultimate destruction. Of course, we expect nothing less from McCrory since she began her career inside the National Theatre’s very own walls.

Power’s adaptation adds a tremendously powerful depth to the play with help from Gregory and Goldfrapp’s musical scores. With the use of a repetitive, piano tune throughout (first played by one of Medea’s ultimately doomed children) the 1 hour 30 minute tragedy keeps the audience tense throughout. Additionally the use of choir music at extremely important and disturbing moments adds to an already intensive hair-raising atmosphere which emanates the grandness of certain acts taken. This is also seen clearly when coupled with the disturbing dance-like twitchy movements the Greek chorus named the women of Corinth use when the play nears its dramatic finale as if to represent Medea’s own frantic and unsettling frame of mind.

Power has seamlessly placed this ancient Greek play into modernity and has also expertly kept the tragedy intact as to leave the entire audience disturbed by the scenes that have just took place in front of them. Yet what is most magnificent about this National Theatre performance is that it not only parallels with nowadays but also the decade long scholarly debate surrounding Euripides’ tragedy by allowing the audience to decide who is to blame for the finale. It leaves the viewer unsure as to who to actually feel sorry for since ‘terrible things breed in broken hearts’.