The Anthony Burgess Foundation plays host to Medea, the latest play from Crystallize Theatre Productions.  It’s a lovely venue, with a flexible performance space, although seating on a single level can make sight lines tricky despite the raised stage.

Medea is described as a modern retelling of the classic Greek tragedy.  Simon Norrie (Artistic Director): ‘We think that the themes that are present in a lot of Greek theatre are ever present in modern life. What is great when looking back at these classics is the way in which they took certain ideas and put them right in your face. Medea is a perfect example of this – filicide, especially as a means of revenge, is not a subject matter to take on lightly. Nevertheless, the Greeks were fearless when it came to tackling controversial subjects which we found could be lacking in the ‘safer’, mainstream theatre of today.’

Certainly Medea is a favourite play of mine, and it is good to see it performed in Manchester.  The real power of Medea is in the interplay between scorned wife Medea and self-obsessed husband Jason.  Critical to the success of the play is the understanding that Medea has already committed horrific acts in the name of her love for Jason.  Where exactly are her boundaries?

There are risks in a modern retelling such as this.  There’s not always enough in the text to support the new setting, and therefore there may be contradictions, and the whole ends up unbalanced.  It can feel like the director is trying too hard to make a contemporary point when actually the original play can better ask the question ‘Could this happen now?’  I don’t believe Greek plays should be taken out of ancient Greece unless they can be made significantly better.

And that’s really where I struggled with this production.  There is much that is good here, it’s competently acted, with the two main characters supported by an effective, prowling chorus.  But there’s something missing in both Medea and Jason.  There’s not enough vengeance inside Medea driving her to the dreadful act, and we don’t really understand how she feels about what she is doing.  Jason isn’t arrogant enough.  Sometimes a single scene can make or break a play, and for me it is when they hold hands; these few seconds could have conveyed the powerful emotional conflicts between them, but it turns out more like two old friends meeting.

When it comes, the ‘modern’ part is impressive, but somehow out of step with the rest of the play.   Staging is good, with some clever lighting.  In all it’s pretty good, it certainly doesn’t drag, and the story comes through well enough.  But in this modern retelling, too much of the power of the original is lost.

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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