Women killing children, mothers killing children – they’re still regarded as the ultimate transgression even in a society like ours obsessed with sexual misdemeanours.
So what should we expect from Medea, Euripides’ burnished account of one woman who took the sword to her own children in revenge at being jilted by the husband who abandoned her for a younger woman?
Thirteen years ago, Fiona Shaw and Deborah Warner gave us a Medea of visceral blood and gore power with a broken married couple – Medea and Jason – unfit for purpose: a couple so obsessed with their own emotional lusts their children became collateral damage to their greater selfish drama.
Carrie Cracknell’s revival in Ben Power’s new version is unlikely to trigger the same kind of fainting in the aisles that accompanied the Shaw/Warner event though her final vision – Medea hauling into oblivion the bloodied sleeping bags of her two boys – does carry a terrific sense of tragic eternity about it.
Cracknell’s production, heavy with musical suggestion of looming tragedy, on the whole takes a more reasonable approach. In Power’s over-simplified version, you can certainly see the rationale behind both Medea and Jason’s actions though the debate between them is cut to a bare minimum.
For all that, it is Helen McCrory’s urban guerrilla fighter Medea who gets the upper hand in the arguments with Danny Sapani’s impressive, charming Jason. Dressed in shapeless combats and vest, McCrory is compelling, conveying the agony and the calculation of the female outsider and mother whose sense of what she has sacrificed for love is as bitterly offended as is her deepening sense of desperation.
Abandoned by Jason, banished by Kreon, the king in the province, Corinth, in which she and Jason have settled, Jason’s rejection now has very real consequences. Homelessness.
Cracknell’s production has its moments and a modern day setting – empty Greek style salon, dull coloured carpet, children’s swings – easily recognisable to today’s audience. McCrory is magnificent, but ultimately the production, with its shaking, quivering floral frocked Chorus fails to fully transmit the horror and urgency of what is still an acute, timeless account of the extremes of rejected love.