Medea, Oxford Playhouse, Oxford
Thursday 11 February 2010
Somerset Maugham once drolly suggested that we should try to forgive other people for the wrongs that we do them. Whenever I see Euripides' great tragedy Medea, I reflect that there could be an inverted corollary to that remark – we should seek to forgive people for the self-sacrificial things they have done for us. The eponymous heroine has pulled out all the stops to further the career of her eventual husband Jason. She has betrayed her father, helped steal the Golden Fleece, and murdered her brother
But now she's fetched up in Corinth where she has been dumped by a now-resentful Jason in favour of the indigenous princess.
As the weapon with which to inflict revenge upon him, Medea turns to their own children. You could say that it's a classic case of cutting off the joint nose to spite a common face. Northern Broadsides' new version is by the poet/critic Tom Paulin and, as you might expect, it has some politically pointed moments.
Describing Medea's status in Corinth, it hits upon the word "immigrant", rather than exile, and the production makes good on this claim. Nina Kristofferson's Medea and Cleo Sylvestre's nicely chatty, scandalised nurse are the only black actors in a cast that is otherwise broad Yorkshire in complexion. Paulin's language is capable of taking bitter lyrical flight, as when the wounded, dangerous atmosphere generated by Medea is evoked with the phrase: "the air around her hurts". And this is a production which musically invokes the blues as the voice of internal exile. Youthful and engagingly direct, even (or perhaps especially) when she is being (too) transparent in her deadly scheming, Kristofferson makes a forceful but unduly fresh impression.
There's no smell of moral or sexual curdling in this crudely directed and designed interpretation. Jason is a glamour boy and the central couple shift from Bonnie and Clyde to Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath mode. You'd never guess that though from the figure cut by Andrew Pollard whose Jason comes across as a bearded moral weakling in a crumpled cream suit.
There are some risible miscalculations throughout the show – in particular, a mood-altering sound effect on an electric guitar that sounds as though a Dalek is having its first singing lesson.
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