Medea, perhaps the most famous of Euripides’ tragedies, is an intensely difficult play to produce. Dealing with Medea’s own descent into madness and her inexorable journey toward a series of horrific, unthinkable acts – a successful production requires a careful balance of the sensitive and the dramatic. Paul Fitzgerald’s production achieved all of this in a professional, brilliant and quite spectacular fashion to provide a thought-provoking evening of entertainment that will remain in the memory for some time.
The bold decision to present this play using traditional masks certainly presented a challenge to the actors – but one which they overcame in triumphant fashion. Expressive movement and careful modulation of the voice throughout allowed the audience to empathise and understand the characters they created, while the masks themselves – exquisitely crafted by Emily Stokes in our Art Faculty – really did allow us to see the action unfold as it would have been.
The transportation of the audience into the ancient state of Corinth was further enhanced by the stunning and elaborately detailed set. The House of Jason, complete with its classical friezes and ornate wooden doors was of a quality one would usually associate with high-level professional productions and Medea’s appearance at the dénouement, rising above the house in her dragon-pulled chariot was a truly breathtaking coup-de-théâtre . A soundscape of eerie chamber music – dominated by mournful cello and lonely piano – cocooned the action in an atmosphere of deep sadness while the soft, subtle lighting plot effectively demarcated the different scenes, particularly highlighting the choral odes.
Medea herself, played by Nina Churchill, presented with the audience with a woman defiant in defeat, determined to wreak her terrible revenge not just on the unfaithful Jason, but on the state of Corinth itself. Mysterious, angular gestures of her hand combined with some impressive vocal work to produce a disturbing performance rooted in a mature understanding of and sensitivity to the text.
Her erstwhile lover, Jason, admirably portrayed by Rhys Trevor, drew us in to his frustrations and the simplicity and recklessness of his hubris and flawed logic. Creon (Angus Moore) and the Aegeus King of Athens (Dan Powell) both made easy work of complicated and intense sections of stichomythia – presenting their arguments and exposition with a naturalness and clarity which meant that the audience remained engaged throughout.
The same could be said of the Tutor (Sam Browne-Swinburne), Nurse (India Eaton) and, of course, the Messenger (Will Shawe-Taylor) who worked hard to convey the emotional turmoil of Medea’s household and the human responses to the dreadful vengeance she unleashed on the royal family of Corinth. A special mention must be made of Reggie Bell and Alfie Wright, whose innocent and touching portrayal of Medea’s children heightened the pathos of her final, hideous action.
In any Greek tragedy, however, it is the Chorus who play an utterly pivotal role – explaining exploring the action and the meaning in direct address to the audience. This, for me, was where the play really shone – the ensemble (Tiggy Cowan-Taylor, Amelia Cox, Mollie Matthews, Liv Moir, and Eleanor Niblett) worked brilliantly together to dissect the meaning of the preceding scene, to consider the consequences, and to foreshadow the darkness to come. A combination of voices in unison and solo highlights produced vivid and exciting odes that added to the momentum of the play as a whole.
To view a gallery of photos from the production, please follow the link: Medea - photo gallery
You can also read more about the creation of the masks: Covering the Crime: The magic of masks in ‘Medea’