Steve Sutherland reviews Medea at the Playbox Theatre, Dream Factory, Warwick, 8th November
About 500 children are murdered by their parents every year in the UK. It’s called filicide and psychologists reckon the principal causes range from acute psychosis and altruism (believing the child may be better off) to, possibly the most cruel and pitiful, spousal revenge.
It’s the revenge one that climaxes Playbox Theatre’s production of Medea. I tell you this with no fear of triggering the spoiler alarm because Medea is based on a Greek Tragedy so bad things are bound to happen, right? And anyway, it’s not as if, in Mike Bartlett’s 2012 rewrite, Medea is the sort of person who, when the news finally breaks, finds astonished neighbours telling reporters that she was a model parent who always kept her hedges trimmed.
In fact, quite the opposite. The action starts with a workmate, Pam, played with bristling elegance by Eilidh Evans, telling someone on her mobile that Medea’s husband has skedaddled with some younger bint and that Medea is deep down in the dumps. Enter Sarah from next door, played with kindly exasperation by Paige Cooper, who has taken it upon herself to do Medea’s son’s school run because Medea… well, Medea won’t leave the house. Or, come to that, wash. Or tidy up. Or communicate. Or anything.
The neighbours and workmates may be self-serving and shallow in their competitive support but they’re nothing compared to Teagan Gough’s Medea, a bright woman gone deliberately dowdy, by turns pathetic and vicious. One moment she making cups of tea, the next she’s fantasising over how she will butcher her hubby’s new girlfriend.
Hayden Coward plays the unfaithful Jason with a similar mix of pompous superiority and weary exasperation, and although he’s a creepy git, who agrees to a last shag with Medea for old time’s sake, we can’t help feel that, sod that he is, his ex has made his life a living torture.
In Euripides’ original, Medea is related to the immortals so all her actions are of cosmic significance. Here, Ms Gough’s Medea is a discarded housewife whose feminist traits are slowly twisting into extremism, her claims to be a witch discarded as get-over-it nonsense by her reluctant confidantes until… the wedding day. Medea has gifted her ex mother-in-law’s dress and tiara for the new bride to wear, perniciously lacing it with a toxic agent which, as Ms Evan’s Pam so vividly describes, burns her skin off as she dies.
Brutal to the bone, director Stewart McGill’s spares us nothing, a screen revealing an horrific medical image to match the tragedy’s telling.
I don’t need to tell you the play’s not exactly packed with laughs – Dylan Marshall’s perfectly dry builder, our Greek chorus, the sole light relief. What we are most movingly left with is the incredible performance by Daniel Travis as the young son Tom. Catatonic throughout, he refuses to speak and drifts through the play as if already resigned to his fate. When his mum locks them into his bedroom, pops him some pills and smothers him with a pillow, he puts up no fight.
The last we see of Medea, she’s screaming a challenge to God to right her wrong. As William Congreve astutely observed way back in 1697’s The Mourning Bride: “Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d, Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.”