Revenge is not sweet - but we knew that

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National Theatre Live

South Holland Centre

You were never going to leave the theatre feeling uplifted. As Greek tragedies go, Euripedes’ Medea is often cited as one of the most horrifying - a mother who kills her children to take revenge on her husband, Jason, who is about to take another bride.

Helen McCroy in the title role is haunting as she groans: “I am in agony, I am so brutally misused. You horrible children, of a mother who hates you god damn you with your father, and the whole house go to Hell....

“They are the sun that lights his world, so I will plunge him into darkness.”

In the opening introduction of the new National Theatre Live production at the South Holland Centre in Spalding, Medea’s twisted world is brought unsettlingly close to our own. We are told before the start of the performance that psychiatrists refer to the situation in which the mother harbours death wishes to her offspring, usually as a revenge against the father, as the Medea complex.

As the play begins, we are warned that if we can’t bare to imagine what we are about to see, we should leave. No-one does. Medea is a wife and a mother. For the sake of her husband, Jason (Danny Sapani), she’s left her home and borne two sons in exile. But when he abandons his family for a new life, Medea faces banishment and separation from her children. Cornered, she begs for one day’s grace... just enought time to exact an appalling revenge to destroy everything she holds dear.

For Ben Power’s translation, the set takes a contemporary setting. We see Medea’s sons playing with toys in front of the TV, lying on the floor in sleeping bags, riding around the stage on tricycles and playing on the swings in the wooded garden at the back of the set.

The plot moves quickly throughout the one-and-a-half hour performance. A clever split stage is used to skip between scenes of Medea’s anguish and struggle during intimate moments with her sons and Jason’s second wedding, which happens noiselessly behind glass in the upper storey.

But even after killing Medea’s new wife with the gift of a dress steeped in poison, her agony continues. Finally, after murdering her sons she drags their bodies in bloodstained sleeping bags in a final act of tainted love. “I shall bury them with my own hand, taking them to the sanctuary of Hera Akraia so that none of my enemies will defile them by tearing up their graves.”

Chrissie Redford - 9/10