Medea

"Okonedo is a fine choice for Medea, a sorceress and complex woman"

Sophie Okonedo packs a punch and the rest in the title role of Robin Jeffers 1940s adaptation of the ancient Greek tragedy, Medea written by Euripides. 

Directed by Dominic Cooke (former artistic director of the Royal Court Theatre) the play, plots the actions of Medea after her husband, Jason (Ben Daniels), leaves her for a younger, Greek princess. She is about to be exiled and forced to leave her two young sons behind. For the next 90 minutes, in the round, at the West End’s newest theatre, we see the horrific consequences of her despair unfold. 

Okonedo is a fine choice for Medea, a sorceress and complex woman. From the moment she emerges, in sunglasses, from the sunken stair case leading to her underground cavern, we feel her spellbinding star power.  As the play progresses, her fear, fury, and unrestrained behaviour unravels.   

Ben Daniels takes on the role of all the men in the play, wearing jeans (the dress is modern), his tops change with each character. Barely off stage, when he’s not in the midst of a scene, he circles around silently in slow motion. This possibly denotes that Medea is being controlled and preyed on;  it’s open to interpretation. But, it’s so frequent and over stylised, that I found myself wavering between bored, distracted and amused by this piece of direction, rather than feeling the intensity that is surely intended. Skulking aside, Daniels is a great actor. He reveals Jason’s arrogance and insidious gaslighting with a commanding presence and slips easily into the other roles. 

Placement of three women of Corinth (representing a Greek chorus) in the audience is clever. When the spot light first picks them out, we are surprised and they immediately have our attention. 

The staging (Vicki Mortimer) is elegant and simple, with the focal point being the aforementioned stone staircase which descends into the stage. A dark rainy scene adds dramatic effect. It’s not entirely doom and gloom, as the script has snippets of witty dialogue. The drama though, is all in the story and performances. 

So, the men are awful and Medea has been wilfully wronged. There is also a back story, that Medea gave up a lot to be with Jason in the first place. Some two or three thousand years ago, a woman facing banishment from this society would be in a hopeless predicament. And, a woman in any age forced to leave her children would be desperate. 

Nevertheless, what she does is brutal and unimaginable so we have no empathy in the end. I’d prefer to see  powerhouses like Okonedo at the front and centre of female stories that come to a more comprehensible conclusion. 

Thankfully, we are spared sight of the eventual tragedy which takes place off-stage, but we hear it and see the aftermath. 

This show was reviewed on the 17th February 2023.  Medea is playing at @sohoplace until 22 April 2023

For tickets: Medea Select Your Tickets - @sohoplace

Review written by Victoria Willetts

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Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

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