Medea weaves together the Greek Tragedy by Euripides and a contemporary retelling of the tale by Chino Odimba. Akiya Henry plays both Medea and Maddy, a modern day abandoned single mother. By way of these two characters, the director George Mann explores themes of female injustice.
The concept that these two women existing thousands of years apart share something in common has great potential. Kate Tempest recently explored similar ideas to great effect in her spoken word piece ‘The Brand New Ancients’; she artfully illustrates how the struggles in the literature of Ancient Greece essentially translate to the modern working woman or the man smoking a cigarette outside of the pub. However this production ultimately falls flat.
George Mann co-directed the electric production of Pink Mist that took the Old Vic by storm in January, so expectations were high for his solo directing debut. He shows an admirable loyalty to the conventions of Greek Tragedy, however ultimately the power of the story is lost in translation. An all female cast respond to the fact that original productions of the tragedy were conventionally all male. The actresses switch between roles with a confusing lack of clarity and the choreography of the chorus seems half hearted and tired. A lack of subtlety pervades throughout the performance, initiated by Maddy’s random discovery of Medea on her doorstep, which inspires her to embrace her anger and resentment.
One feature that is enjoyable and deserves mention is the musical talent of the cast, combining ancient and modern, classical, gospel and soul influences. In particular, Eleanor Jackson stuns with her impressive range and power, and Akiya Henry showcases her soulful voice commendably.
Euripides is often cited as one of the first proto-feminist playwrights, a fact which gives ample opportunities to explore Medea in a modern context. The play does address the age old topics of motherhood and infidelity, disregarding the stereotype of the passive female on all accounts. However, the male characters are shockingly underdeveloped as a result. Maddy ultimately relies on another male character for her freedom, which undercuts the feminist push explicit throughout the performance. The marginalisation of female voices remains relevant, however a more nuanced portrayal of this subject is needed if it is to be truly evocative.