Medea, Almeida Theatre, London, review: A savage, sometimes laugh-out-loud account

Perfectly attuned production earns its five stars despite arguably a terrible mishap with plot and tone towards the end

Paul Taylor
Monday 05 October 2015 14:10
Kate Fleetwood and Justin Salinger in 'Medea'
Kate Fleetwood and Justin Salinger in 'Medea'

Other writer's scalpels are as sugar tongs to hers. And other writers modernising versions of this great Euripidean tragedy feel like What Katy Did Next when ranged Rachel Cusk's ferociously persuasive update of the play to the brutalities and mendacities of contemporary divorce. I am giving this savage, sometimes laugh-out-loud bitter account and Rupert Goold's production, which is perfectly attuned to the material, an unhesitating five stars, even though there is arguably a terrible misstep with plot and tone towards the end.

In Euripides, Medea is a princess driven to infanticide when her husband dumps her for a politically expedient younger model. Here Kate Fleetwood's superb Medea, her beautiful face seeming to hone itself to an axe-blade, is a screenwriter in career decline left looking after their two kids by a rising actor who is the essence of what Carly Simon meant by “You're so vain” (stain-leavingly smarmy Justin Salinger). The adaptation is about the dreadful damage wreaked on children of a toxic, negatively incestuous divorce. Here is the husband leaving on her answerphone the reasons why Medea should accept the mediator's insistence on a “privacy clause” . “I mean, it's not like you're, you know, a big name, is it?” With a chorus of school gate yummy mummies and wily strategies for suggesting that the high stakes of the original have not been diminished, this thrilling version is unmissable.

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