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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
by Lizzie Loveridge

My lovely life is lost
-- Medea
The very best of Greek tragedies have the audience debating the rights and wrongs of the characters because they have been so perfectly balanced, and it is this which keeps them interesting today. But in the case of Euridipes' Medea we ask, "Can any mother who kills her children have right on her side? Is Medea's action purely one of revenge on her husband Jason or does Medea have to kill them before they are inevitably killed by her enemies?"

In an established partnership that has already brought us Electra and Richard II, Deborah Warner directs Fiona Shaw in this modern interpretation of the classic tale of rejection and infanticide. Warner has decided to show Medea as the victim of a husband moving on for a younger woman. Long before she makes her first appearance on stage, Fiona Shaw as Medea is heard smashing crockery as husband and wife battle it out from behind the scenes. Jason (Jonathan Cake) tries to justify his marriage to Creon's daughter as something he did for the security of their children, who will now have influential half siblings tosafeguard their future. The art of spin thousands of years ago!

Fiona Shaw starts out at such a screaming pitch that she failed to build to a moment where one could feel empathy for her plight. Whilst it is undoubtedly a powerful performance, there is simply not enough relenting of full throttle passion. There is always the danger with Medea that Jason, the hero of the Golden Fleece seems wimpish since it is after all Medea who was the architect of his success. Jonathan Cake does not escape this danger. Although there are moments when he and Shaw look as though they were once lovers.

The chorus are an assorted bunch of women, from new age, office worker, housewife to Women's Institute baker of cakes. True, that the chorus is meant to be a representation of the local population but the effect here is that they appear to be individuals rather than a united body. The chorus does not sing but we hear folk song from behind the scenes. Before she kills the children Shaw strips down to her black bra and briefs, puts on a loose white shirt and douses herself in oil. After the murder, she carries onstage the bodies of the children, soaked in blood. Representing Medea as an ordinary discarded wife plays down the magical properties she was meant to have, although Creon (Struan Rodger) knows that she is a danger to his daughter and gives this as a reason for exiling her from Corinth.

Modern day Corinth is a construction site strewn with building materials and breeze block. A small pool lies in front of two large frosted glass doors with blue grey marble walls to the rear. Around the pool are children's toys which Medea picks up when talking about the children. Medea wears a black shift dress, high heels and an orange cardigan and Jason first appears in trainers and tracksters. Lighting turns everyone into black silhouettes, the rest bright white as the murder is committed and raucous music blasts our senses in a very dramatic moment.

I am pleased that Greek tragedy has found a theatre in the West End but sorry that this opportunity seems to have gone over dramatically awry. However later this year we have Tantalus (CurtainUp's review of that production in Denver, Colorado) at the Barbican and an announcement that Peter Hall will direct The Bacchae at the National Theatre soon.
Written by Euripides
Directed by Deborah Warner

Starring: Fiona Shaw, Jonathan Cake
With: Siobhan McCarthy, Jonathan Slinger, Emma Dewhurst, Moya Brady, Kate Fleetwood, Gillian Hanna, Joyce Henderson, Gabriele Lloyd, Pauline Lynch, Struan Rodger, Leo Wringer, Robert Hines, Francis Gillen, Louis Brandon, Jack Richards, Louie Lynn, Thomas Knight, Joshua Lloyd-Hall
Design: Tom Pye
Lighting Design: Peter Mumford
Costume Design: Tom Rand
Sound Design: Mel Mercier
Running time: One hour forty minutes without an intermission
Box Office: 020 7494 5040
Booking to 14th April 2001
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 31st January 2001 performances at the Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue London W1
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