Translated by Kenneth McLeish & Frederic Raphael
Directed by Deborah Warner
Starring: Fiona Shaw (Medea), Jonathan Cake (Jason)
Abby Theatre Dublin Production
Design: Tom Pye
OriginalLighting Design: Peter Mumford
Associate Lighting Designer: Michael Gunning
Costume Design: Jacqueline Durann
Soundscapes: Mel Mercier
Sound Designer: David Mescher
Quite simply the best production of a Greek tragedy I have ever seen, or ever will see again, as I am sure that it will take a very long time for a production to achieve such monumentally shattering immediacy with a play written over 2000 years ago. Part of the credit has to go to the Kenneth McLeish & Frederic Raphael collaboration on the translation of the text which is nothing short of brilliant.
I had always liked Deborah Warner’s work. Her early days at the Royal Shakespeare Company are marked by two very good and highly acclaimed productions; Shakespeare’s King John & Titus Andronicus. I was also lucky enough to see Fiona Shaw’s debut at the National Theatre as Lydia Languish in The Rivals, and could see from the start that she was an actor with special qualities.
The collaboration between the two women spans nearly two decades now; Electra again at the RSC, followed by Hedda Gabler. Later came the controversial Richard II, where Fiona Shaw plays the role of the King himself. T.S. Elliot’s The Waste Land was another project of note they did together. Their collaborations are always eagerly awaited as together they have set a new standard in theatre-land. The moment you learn that they are about to do something together again, you can't help that feeling of anticipation. You know that whatever it is they undertake, they will end up re-defining it in some way or another. Even when dealing with high issues or extreme emotions, they are supremely subtle, even when hitting you on the head with a sledgehammer, as was the case with Electra and now Medea, they always do it with great intelligence and masses of style. Medea, in my opinion is, to date, their most powerful collaboration.
I went to see the new production two days after it opened in London. I went with my sister and my partner at the time. We all came out of the theatre literally shaking. We were admittedly sitting in the third row, so apart from usual unpredictabiliy of the mainly itinerant staging; with actors just popping up all over the auditorium in the shape of furious kings, angry husbands, terrified messengers and of the chorus of local women; which was all very unsettling, there also were burning toys being hurled at great speed, a huge knife being waved in everyone's face constantly, Tupperware box full of Spanish tortilla, a large canister of gasoline and Medea’s dress all flying around too, not to mention nearly getting spattered with children’s blood as well as bloodied water form the pool, that was centre stage, and round which Medea puts the blood soaked bodies of the boys she hacks to death, and where Jason tries to drown her in disgust and horror at the sight…the list of very scary things going on all around you was endless. It was literally a blood bath.
The scariest thing of all was to experience at close range a characterization so powerful and rare. No matter how on the verge Fiona Shaw’s Medea was, she still managed to come out as probably the most human and certainly the wittiest Medea in history. She gets you to laugh with her, then when you relax, she takes you by the hair and drags you screaming to hell; huge knife in hand and clad in bra, panties, transparent plastic overcoat, high-heels and fully doused in gasoline!
It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Theatre at it’s very best.
Here is a short clip of the show and Fiona Shaw talking about her role on Charlie Rose.
NY Times & Post reviews.Read here.
It's not that you doubt the intelligence of Ms. Shaw's Medea. But her lacerating misfortunes have broken the circuits of that intelligence, and her responses are a toxic jumble. She seems to wear her nerves outside her skin. Numbness and excruciating pain, shrill anger and mordant, bizarre humor flit across her raw features in disjunctive parade.
London Theatre review.