‘Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.’ This is the phrase that comes to mind after sitting through Medea, the gut-wrenching Greek tragedy by Euripides, cleverly adapted by Robinson Jeffers.
@Sohoplace is a brand new, modern yet intimate theatre, with an arena stage surrounded by three tiers of seating. The performance space appears at first glance to be oval, but this is simply the centre of the stage. It is in a lighter finish to stand out against the darker outer perimeter, which is more rectangular and almost level with the audience in the stalls. Immediately our gaze is focused onto the forthcoming action. Our first glimpse of Medea is as she drags herself out of the house in a daze of depression and wearing sunglasses, like a true drama queen. In keeping with the modern venue, contemporary costume allows the audience to relate closely to a play from the 5th century BCE.
Sophie Okonedo is absolutely brilliant as Medea, both in timing and execution. She bleeds her pain all over the stage, interspersed with dark humour that brings the audience some light relief. Every expression rivets the spectator. This is not a woman to be trifled with. Both victim and villain, she describes all the sacrifices she’s made for Jason (Ben Daniels); abandoning her country and committing atrocious crimes on his behalf, only to be cast off as a foreigner in a strange land. “The world is a little closed to me…by the things I have done for you” she says, berating her husband.
Men! The audacity: to marry her for love, but use her status and sorcery for his power and gain. Then siring his children (Ben Connor and Heath Gee-Burrowes),only to discard her and his entire house and to repeat this story with Creon’s daughter. Medea is driven to revenge in her bitterness and grief. The standing ovation at the end of the play was a testament to the power and emotion that is wrought and builds to a crescendo.
Medea’s Nurse (Marion Bailey) breaks the fourth wall as she summarises the events that led to this climactic point, as her mistress lies within the house, overcome with madness and grief. Thus, the audience is connected intimately with her distress. Meanwhile, in our peripheral vision, we see Daniels walking in slow motion along the perimeter of the stage. He plays the multiple male roles of Jason, Creon, the tutor, and Aegeus, with his transformations into each character executed rhythmically and cleverly during his excruciatingly slow promenade. He shrugs into and out of a jacket or picks up a bag without losing a beat. And so we are subtly pre-warned of a new character emerging; it’s beautifully presented without detracting from the dialogue centrestage.
The dialogue continues beyond the stage as the women of Corinth (Penny Layden, Jo Mcinnes, and Amy Trigg) are, to our delight, ranged throughout the audience, and therefore included with us as voyeurs in this tragedy for the full ninety minutes.
Medea’s story is sadly still highly relatable today, and this powerfully staged production is an emotionally challenging reminder of that.
Adapted by: Robinson Jeffers [From the play by Euripides]
Directed by: Dominic Cooke
Produced by: Dominic Cooke and Kate Horton for Fictionhouse Limited, Nica Burns, and Kate Pakenham Productions
Medea plays at Soho Place until 22 April 2023. Further information and bookings can be found here.