"Terrible things breed in broken hearts."
Queuing up for returned tickets may seem like blind optimism and a 50/50 waste of time, not to mention looking glaringly cheap in the eyes of high-brow theatre folk. But if you take a book, a magazine or a friend the time flies by and you could get half price tickets for acceptable seats, even if they are in the 'nosebleeds'. This is exactly how a poor student like myself got talked into seeing the final performance of Medea in its run at the National Theatre.
Originally one of the great Greek tragedies from Euripides, Ben Power (the associate director of the National Theatre) staged a re-envisioned version directed by Carrie Cracknell, with haunting music from the Goldfrapp 'art-pop' duo to transport the show into its contemporary context. Helen McCrory starred as Medea; the 'barbarian protagonist' who goes to horrific extremes to seek vengeance and retribution. As the English poet and playwright William Congreve is paraphrased to have said: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Life is not as glorious for the hailed hero Jason after completing his quest to attain the golden fleece; he has abandoned his wife Medea with their two children to marry Glauce; the Corinthian Princes of King Creon. The King visits Medea to force her into exile before Jason and his daughter wed. However, Medea throws herself at his mercy to grant her an extra day before she has to leave. It is during this time that her sanity, borne from hatred and betrayal, prompts her to hatch a plot to kill Glauce and Creon, putting her sons in the perilous position of collateral damage.
While we took our seats high above in heavens, we could gaze upon the dimly lit 1960's style apartment while Medea's sons nonchalantly played with toys in character on stage. The set was split into two levels: Medea's home (opening onto the wilderness of a forest scene) below and the Corinthian world above. Sadly, the play began on a dull note with the Nurse delivering a very wooden and bland soliloquy summarising the events leading up to Medea's present mental state and her own foreshadowed fears for the children. It was Helen McCrory's powerful performance that masterfully projected the paranoia and emotional breakdown throughout the course of the 90 minutes that draws you in to feel ambivalent towards Medea as a sympathetic anti-hero. The chorus of the Corinthian women amplifying Medea's anxieties and personifying her rationality through avant-garde dance was another highlight.
Helen McCrory, known for her roles in television such as Peaky Blinders and Penny Dreadful, films including Hugo, Skyfall and as the sinister Narcissa Malfoy in the Harry Potter movies, spoke about playing Medea in conversation:
"I'd never read it and I'd never seen it... When I was phoned up I was very thrilled because it sounded wonderful. It always sounds wonderful if they say you're playing, you know, the title of the play. Always wakes you up and pay special attention at that first reading of the play. And I thought ‘Fantastic. Absolutely no way. It's going to kill me.’ I decided that I was going to have to learn to act in a very different way for this job because it is a very harrowing role."
At the end of the production, with Medea and Jason's searingly emotional confrontation over the tragic murder of their children at the hands of a desperate mother, the audience was left speechless at this overwhelmingly dramatic adaptation.
Check out what's currently showing at the National Theatre: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows