Almeida Theatre (****)
It’s not so much that Rupert Goold has saved his best till last. His whole vision of setting three major Greek classics in a modern context has been a triumph, not least this final one by Rachel Cusk.
An award-winning author of seven novels and works of non-fiction, Cusk is a controversial writer thanks to her style of exposé and `confessionals’ taken from her own life with Aftermath (divorce) and being a mother(A Life’s Work: On Becoming a Mother).
Who better then to recast Medea, author of that absolute taboo, the killing of one’s own child, by a writer who tells it like it is from the mothering battlefront?
Not that Cusk spares Medea. Though there is much here that seems gleaned again from autobiography, one’s sympathies are split.
Kate Fleetwood’s writer-mother Medea (like Cusk) starts on a high of fury and seldom softens. Over an hour and half she rages at Justin Salinger’s Jason, her words scrambling over his in a white hot heat of rejection, pain and lust for revenge. But within her outpourings against her divorcing husband come torrents of invective at compromise – that staple tool of so many women, married and unmarried. Cusk, Goold and Fleetwood’s Medea is a full-bloodied assault on female capitulation.
Cusk gives no quarter, Fleetwood takes no prisoners and it would be easy to dismiss the whole caboodle as `strident’. Yet Cusk’s truths undoubtedly strike home. Unlike Deborah Warner’s blood-stained account some years ago with Fiona Shaw, Cusk and Goold work on a more subliminal level, far more deadly, far more lacerating.
Goold’s production is uber-modern in design – a Californian style house (Cusk lived in LA for some years), Amanda Boxer’s Nurse and Andy de La Tour’s Creon a couple of archetypal suburbanites with a Chorus of gossiping, `she’s different to us’ housewives who could have come straight out of the Daily Mail Femail pages or Mumsnet (with whom Cusk has had more than a few run-ins).
Cusk’s most radical deviation though is left to last, culminating not in the murder of the children but pointing to the appalling damage inflicted on children by warring parents.
Shocking, it brings Goold’s grand design to a stunning conclusion.
Medea runs at the Almeida to Nov 14, 2015
First published in Reviewsgate Oct, 2015