Arts: The experts' guide to being a misogynist

Two classic plays show the danger in messing with a woman scorned - let the world's men beware.
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The Independent Culture
A STUDY of female terrorists published a few years ago bore the arresting title Shoot the Women First, after an instruction commonly given to counter-insurgency forces - apparently women consistently prove the deadlier sex under ambush or threat, because they're less predictable, less amenable to reason.

It's a view few would quibble with after seeing either of these two Citizens' studio productions, ancient and modern variations on the theme of messing with a determined female at your peril.

Clare Venables's new version of Seneca's classic tragedy Medea, directed and designed by Stewart Laing, plays the piece fairly straight in terms of structure and language, albeit sprinkling the text with nods to later revenge narratives, including Congreve's immortal "Hell hath no fury..." line.

Combined with the archly incongruous society-wedding costumes, this echo effect subtly heightens the story's elemental timelessness, even as Venables gives due sensuous prominence to the original's epic descriptive passages. The taffeta suits and full-dress kilt regalia also, and with equal understatement, underline the fact that at the root of Medea's betrayal by Jason lie money and material power.

Kathy Kiera Clarke as Medea rightly commands centre-stage with a performance of riveting intensity and poise, an anguished fusion of gigantic, terrifying rage and bottomless grief. She, together with Ellen Sheean and Leonard Kavanagh, both on strong form as a slightly sniffy but increasingly alarmed Chorus, fill the near-bare space with vivid verbal tableaux from the drama's mythic background, recounting Medea's key role in capturing the golden fleece and saving the Argonauts, the very feats for which she's now decried.

Gerrard McArthur's Creon pits a fine, steely coldness against Clarke's incandescence, while Pascal Langdale as Jason strikes an effective balance between defensive arrogance and hapless incomprehension.

Those same last attributes are also abundantly displayed by David Mamet's college professor, John, in the second act of his (in)famous two-hander Oleanna, which is widely, though erroneously, regarded as an attack on political correctness.

To interpret it as such is to fall headlong into the very trap in which Mamet so cunningly and meticulously ensnares John, as virtually his every act and utterance during the first half stacks up his culpability - ethically if not always literally - for the charges later laid against him by his aggrieved student, Carol.

The point being that his constant interruptions, his condescension, his vanity and his presumptions of superiority all add up to entirely normal, un-noteworthy behaviour for a man in his position, whereas Carol's turning of the tables transgresses umpteen expectations of the younger, poorer, lesser educated female party. "Can you deny it?" she demands repeatedly of her accusations, the crucial - and glaring, for those willing to see it - point being that indeed he cannot.

Complementing and powerfully committed performances from Peter Guinness and Lorna McDevitt sustain the characters' destructive symbiosis on both an individual and an emblematic level, each fluently at ease with the jostling nuances and staccato rhythms of Mamet's intricately crafted dialogue.

To 21 Nov, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow (booking: 0141-429 0022)

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