Medea, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Click to follow
The Independent Culture

When it comes to Medea, you don't need to be familiar with the beliefs and rituals of the Nigerian Yoruba to appreciate Femi Elufowoju Jnr's take on Euripides' vengeful tale. Love deceived and loyalty betrayed is shattering, wherever and whoever you are. Of course, the Yoruba slant may have opened a window for Elufowoju, a descendant of that tribe, colouring the way in which emotions are aroused, passions unleashed and conflict incited.

Few, myself included, are likely to recognise the allusions - Creon's magnificent pointed crown apart - though that in no way lessens the impact of this striking interpretation. The pain and suffering of violated love (Medea), naive incomprehension (Jason), a flawed character (Creon), unsuspecting pawn (Aegeus) and the unseen cause of all this trouble, Jason's new royal bride, work themselves into an explosive provocation.

Howling as if across the centuries, Medea is at first not seen but certainly heard. Her servants, a small chorus of observers and commentators integrated into the action while slipping in and out of the drama's dark recesses, shift uneasily. What follows, in the excellent Tanya Moodie's horribly compelling portrayal of a woman not so much wronged as damned, is an advancing, incisive authority. As she grows from victim to victor (of a sort), coolly outlining her plans, she predicts a series of escalating events in a manner so powerfully delineated that it scarcely needs further enactment.

After relishing the description of the utter destruction of the house of Creon, and sharing with us a soliloquy of agonising doubt and hesitation, Medea resolves on her final, awful deed with calm conviction. We are spared little in the slaughter of her children, seeing nothing but hearing everything as their blood-curdling shrieks echo around. Above Ruari Murchison's simple, stone-coloured set, Medea's blood-stained hands scream more forcefully than Jason's loud purple robe, her quiet suffering speaking volumes more than his anguish, too late but not too little.

The whole cast sounds at ease with Alistair Elliot's translation, revised by the poet during rehearsals, though not to the exclusion of some small peculiarities. Of the women surrounding Medea, conveying their incomprehension, Jacqueline Kington infuses her role as Nurse with a comfy familiarity, down to the Yorkshire accent. Alan Cooke, doubling as Creon and Aegeus, is more convincing as the latter. The director himself has a chunk of the action, having had to take over the role of Jason, manipulative in the oh-so-reasonable way he tries to justify his unfaithful actions and turn the blame for all the fuss on to Medea.

As she ascends the stairs at the end - her route lit by a single red strip cast, no doubt, by her ancestor Helios, the sun god - you feel that you have experienced the extreme emotions and wild aberrations by which men and women are driven, and their ruinous consequences.

To 13 December (0113-213 7700)