When you have Helen McCroy as the title character of a Greek tragedy, you don’t need to say much else to get me to the theatre. Well, the cinema. That’s right kids, Charlie is too poor and too busy to take her flabby arse to London, let’s see it in my local cinema where I can eat a ridiculous amount of ice cream and sweets in scruffy clothes without being judged. Yes, it’s nice to make going to the theatre an occasion but I’m poor for that. Besides, if I’d seen it on stage, I wouldn’t be able to appreciate Helen McCroy impossible feat of steadily crying for an hour and a half. A mother steeling herself to kill her own children in an act of revenge would have anyone weeping. It’s Medea.
It is believed that Euripides wrote Medea around 430 BC, and like most Greek plays, its based upon the myth that everybody knew. As much as I’d love to question why hundreds of Greek men (not women) flocked to the theatre to see a tale they already knew, but here I was, watching a play I’d studied at university so knew it back to front. Anyway, don’t we watch the same man and woman dancing the same dance of will-they-won’t-they. Ross and Rachel will always be television’s greatest and epic odyssey. Sorry, on with the play.
McCroy wept from beginning to end but that wasn’t the incredible thing in my eyes. It was the sanity and rationality she bought the character. Many dismiss Medea as mad and bad, maybe it comforts people to think that this is one rouge individual rather than something any woman could be capable of. But it is recognised as a ‘thing’. One of the perks of the NT Lives, is the mini documentary that precedes the performance. McCroy talks of The Medea Complex, “the situation in which the mother harbours death wishes to her offspring, usually as a revenge against the father”. McCroy’s Medea acted out of desperation and grief rather than mania. I was extremely sympathetic, something I could never do at university simply by reading it. McCroy is now the standard on which I measure any other Medea I may experience.
High praise for the lead actor indeed, as for the rest of the play, it was fine. I was confused by the setting, everything seemed intentionally 1970s but there was a mobile phone and a pair of Nintendo DS. I can ignore these slight anachronisms. As for the chorus, I like their presence but I would have liked to see more from them. They had moments of movement that didn’t match the epic emotions of the play, it was weak in comparison. But the words they echoed were perfect, this adaption by Ben Power made it contemporary and poignant without going over the top, ramming a message down our throats reminding us of recent case of mothers turned murderers, of which there have been many.
Mothers’ turning on their own flesh and blood will always fascinate us and allude us; we still have no comprehension on it but it is trauma that takes them down that path. Medea will always speak volumes about not only a woman’s struggles but an outsider’s struggles. Let’s not forget Medea has been taken from her homeland and is an alien. If society does not try to understand her, she will act against society. I fear we will never see a day where Medea is no longer relevant.