Review Roundup: National Theatre's MEDEA with Helen McCrory
National Theatre of Great Britain's production of Euripides' Greek tragedy MEDEA, in a new version by Ben Power, directed by Carrie Cracknell and starring Helen McCrory in the title role, is currently playing at the Olivier Theatre.
Medea is a wife and a mother. For the sake of her husband, Jason, she's left her home and borne two sons in exile. But when he abandons his family for a new life, Medea faces banishment and separation from her children. Cornered, she begs for one day's grace. It's time enough. She exacts an appalling revenge and destroys everything she holds dear.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: Ms. McCrory, a commanding actress with a crypt-tone voice, delivers a lacerating study in a madness with which any latter-day psychiatrist would be familiar. She is first seen emerging from the bathroom, brushing her teeth, in dirty men's clothes and unwashed hair. "Nothing - nothing can come between this woman and her misery," notes the family nanny (played with stunned affectlessness by Michaela Coel), in Ben Power's stark new translation.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: For all its psychological astuteness, the production has one or two oddities. Tom Scutt's split-level set, with a Corinthian palace above and a dark forest below, seems too palpably symbolic of the play's division between public and private worlds. And the Chorus, as choreographed by Lucy Guerin, move strangely from being straitlaced women in print frocks to quivering members of a seemingly avant-garde dance troupe. But the play's tragic force emerges strongly and the production's climax seems better suited to modern tastes than Euripides' original. Without giving the game away, we no longer see Medea borne away in a chariot provided by the sun god but making an exit that is profoundly pitiable and perfectly in tune with the insane contradictions of her character.
Charles Soencer, Telegraph: Small in stature though she is, McCrory commands the Olivier's huge stage. She is superbly duplicitous in the scene in which she appears to make amends to Jason even as she plans to kill his new wife. The chorus is excellent, performing juddering, jittery dances as the tension mounts, and there is robust support from Danny Sapani as Jason, unforgivably suggesting to Medea that his defection is in the best interests of her and the children.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: Its textures are a mix of ancient and modern. Though it reverberates with a sense of Greek ritual, there's an acute feeling of up-to-dateness. This Medea at first looks like she's just emerged from a yoga class in Primrose Hill, before surprising us by smoking like a slightly gauche student and later dressing in floaty white trousers.There's the same quality of wispy elegance in some of the music, by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp. But as the plot darkens, the score pulses with malevolent intent and builds to snarling intensity.
Paul Taylor, Independent: The heroine's formidability and vulnerability are brilliantly entwined in McCrory's performance. Pacing frustratedly round these grotty quarters and trading in scathing, end-of-the-tether ironies, she is the embodiment of how if you leave a person with only their wits to live on, those wits are likely to warp. She runs rings of cool calculation round the male characters but there are stunning moments where her entire system seems to collapse under the pressure of maternal instinct - such as the superb point when she realises, with claustrophobic panic, that by using her sons as pawns in her vengeance against the bride, she has trapped herself into now having to kill them in order to protect them from a worse death at the hands of her foes.
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail: Despite its considerable theatrical merits I was, as ever, glad to escape 'Medea'. Outside, I saw a loving father pushing a toddler in a buggy. Thank the Christian God that we have moved on from the vengeful gods of Ancient Greece.
Victoria Sadler, Huffington Post: I don't think I've ever been so traumatised by a theatrical production ever. Not thatMedea is a happy tale, of course. The story of a jilted wife, who murders her children as a way of revenge against her soon-to-be ex-husband is always going to be dark but Carrie Cracknell, in this new version of Euripides' work by Ben Power, brings us a genuinely disturbing production.
Photo Credit: Richard Hubert Smith