Many things about this production were very similar to the one I was involved in: both adopted a modern setting; both came down firmly on the side of Medea and the injustice of being cast aside by Jason. I discussed some of these concepts with an octogenarian actor at the time of my production, who didn’t find the updating of the play wholly to his taste,”Where were the robes?” he complained. And it’s only years later, after witnessing the play from an audience’s perspective, that I understand what he meant - he wasn’t simply complaining about the costumes! Last Thursday, Judith and I left the auditorium in total agreement that we had just seen a first class piece of theatre. However, later on we found that neither of us was somehow as deeply affected as we might have expected to have been after witnessing the atrocious act of filicide commited by Medea in her terrifying revenge upon Jason for his cowardly betrayal of her love. Why, we had to ask ourselves, were we not as moved as we have often been after watching many other tragic dramas?
I feel many of our theatre productions strive too hard to give plays from an earlier age a contemporary ‘feel’. Personally, I think we are wrong to take Euripides’ universality as a writer as unshakeable proof that he was some kind of proto-feminist. He definitely sympathised, I think, with the plight of women in Greek society; as well, I suspect as understanding Medea’s vulnerability as an immigrant living in what was to her a foreign land; we can appreciate her pain at being suddenly cast aside, despite her love and devotion, by an ambitious self-serving husband. Let’s face it, Jason is a rat and Euripides makes this very plain for us to see. But something I think we must also bear in mind is that Euripides’ audience was entirely male - no women were present at the Dionysia Festival - so perhaps he is making them look at their responsibilities. Maybe this didn’t go down too well, which is why he only came third?
However, we are in great danger I think when we attempt to turn a classical text into kitchen sink drama. We should not forget that in the original Euripides play, Medea, after witnessing the devastation she has wrought upon her faithless husband by murdering their children, not to mention Jason’s bride-to-be Glauce and Creon the king, exits the stage bearing the dead bodies of her sons in a fiery chariot belonging to the sun God Helios. She is an accomplished practitioner of the dark arts; Medea isn’t new to atrocity, she has already killed her own brother and betrayed her own people to help Jason steal the Golden Fleece. Let’s not forget either that these ancient ‘myths’, as they are to us, were a religion to the Greeks; they are their Bible stories if you will. Medea has always struck me as an archetype, the goddess Kali perhaps comes close; Ayesha in Rider Haggard’s She strikes a similar note. The female archetype is creative, loving and devoted, yet once forsaken by him she once loved with a devotion verging on the fanatical, can become as equally terrifying and unforgiving in her malevolence and hatred; by poisoning Jason’s new wife and destroying his royal aspirations, then murdering their children, Medea has, by the end of the play, utterly obliterated any possible future he may have aspired to; it is an unimaginably terrible revenge.
Anyway, just my thoughts. This is a great production and it is well worth seeing.