‘A woman can do no good but in childbirth, but she can do evil.’

Medea is an ancient Greek tragedy by Euripides, the basis of which is the myth of Jason and Medea. The play was first produced and staged in 431 BC and has had countless adaptations since then. Robinson Jeffers adapted the play into a Broadway hit in 1947, and this is the adaptation used within this production of Medea, currently on at @sohoplace.

Credit: Johan Persson

Typically, a show suited to the National, and found less often in the West End, the in-the-round staging of the theatre aids the play’s ability to create tension amongst the audience. From the moment the show begins with loud booming music, soon transforming into a pulsating sound which never ceases, maintaining suspense and creating an eeriness when you realise there isn’t a simple exit should you be sat in the middle of the balcony rows. Vicki Mortimer’s staging is simple, the circle of the stage is lit, and a staircase leads below the stage level, ensuring we are not witnessing the horrific final scenes, but we can hear them play out.

Dominic Cooke’s direction ensures the momentum is relentless throughout the 90-minute run time. The Women of Corinth (Penny Layden, Jo McInnes, and Amy Trigg) are placed within the audience, also paying witness to what is unfolding, and commenting on this throughout. Lucy Cullingford’s use of movement is enthralling, Ben Daniels moves in slow-motion circles around Medea, and the action onstage whenever he is not in a scene, changing costumes and subsequently characters at a hypnotically slow pace.

Sophie Okonedo’s Medea is supremely intelligent, equal parts passionate and vengeful. Her portrayal of the character shows her not as a volatile, evil woman as she has often been portrayed as in the past, but as a woman at her wit’s end, having been mistreated by men. We watch the build-up until the heinous act we know is coming. Okonedo is outstanding, giving a nuanced, intensely passionate, and compelling performance. Her chemistry onstage with Daniels is electric, both of them hold the stage with enormous stage presence, ensuring we never divert our gaze. 

Credit: Johan Persson

Daniels takes on the roles of Jason, Tutor, Creon, and Aegeus, he ensures each character is distinctive, from the cold and controlling Jason, to the delightfully camp Aegeus. Daniels’ Jason patronises, gaslights, and mansplains, and it’s chilling to realise as he dons a white vest and jeans, that the 1947 script remains scarily relatable to many in the present day. His treatment of Medea means we and the women on stage do not sympathise with Jason until the last few minutes of the run time, where everything he holds dear is taken from him. 

There are some similarities to the Almeida’s Macbeth, in that the characters within both of these productions wear modern dress, the use of water within the staging, and how exquisitely tense both shows feel throughout. 

Medea has all the components of a great tragedy, I would have appreciated slightly more build-up to the difficult-to-watch ending, and I do feel without this calibre of performers the play would be less effective. But whilst the design of the show is simplistic, it delivers intensity satisfyingly well throughout. Okonedo and Daniels are both exceptionally compelling, and it would be a tragedy for you to miss this. 

Rating: 4 out of 5.

{🎟 AD – PR invite – Tickets were gifted in exchange for an honest review}

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