Review by Daz Gale
The newest theatre in London gets one of the oldest shows as a new production of Medea becomes the third show to take up residency in @sohoplace since its launch last October. While the first two productions were resounding successes, can they continue their winning streak and make it three in a row or will this be an absolute tragedy?
Written by Euripides, Medea has entertained and enthralled audiences for nearly 2500 years now. This ancient Greek tragedy tells the story of a woman consumed by grief and rage who will stop at nothing to exact her revenge. Adapted countless times in the millennia that have followed, this production was adapted by Robinson Jeffers.
It can sometimes be a challenge to reimage such an ancient story that has been played out longer than anyone can even imagine. At times, I personally find the use of language hard to accustom to, so it is a testament to Medea how beautifully accessible this production is, while still retaining its legendary wording, it is effortlessly updated and told in a way that is not at all difficult to follow (although I must admit it took me a couple of minutes to get accustomed to).
Dominic Cookes direction of the piece is exquisite, making use of thein the round stage where every audience member is visible in a truly intimate setting. Speaking of the audience, having cast members appear seemingly from nowhere amongst them was an inspired touch and one that showed a real understanding for the story and the art of theatre in itself. Choices such as having Ben Daniels circle the stage in slow motion while he was in-between characters showed an unflinching ability to try bold choices in its staging, and this paid off every time.
Vicki Mortimers set design transported us to the setting wonderfully with the use of a staircase leading to events taking place below the stage, that while never seen, were some of the most captivating of all. This again is a testament to Dominic Cookes wonderful direction. Neil Austins lighting set the mood perfectly while Gareth Fry’s Sound is among the most important I have witnessed in theatre, creating an ominous and atmospheric setting. While the setting may look simple in its design, it is as effective as it gets, thanks in part to an unexpected reveal later on.
Undoubtedly, the greatest aspect of Medea is the titular character herself. Sophie Okonedo takes on the role in this production in what is a true feat of acting. Sophie’s characterisation is second to none, completely encompassing Medea in a performance so believable, you completely forget this is acting. From her dramatic introduction to her unravelling that culminates in shocking and tragic circumstances, Sophie delivers a versatile and note-perfect performance that feels true to the complexities of this character. Such is the capabilities of her acting choices, the moments she is not speaking are every bit as powerful as her dialogue. There were moments I found myself unable to take my eyes off of Sophie as her face always told a thousand words with the most expressionate eyes I think I have seen for myself.
Ben Daniels takes on a multitude of characters in a varied performance that speaks volumes about his talent. From Medea’s cheating ex Jason to the King Creon, his characterisation is never muddled, ensuring each person he plays is distinctly different to the last. One extreme highlight sees Ben camp it up as Aegeus complete with knowing looks to the audience in a fleeting moment of light-hearted joy that breaks up the intensity of the majority of the story. His chemistry with Sophie on the stage elevates these scenes further in an overall commanding performance.
Marion Bailey holds her own against two powerhouse performances with her turn as the Nurse – her face telling a picture as she deals with the spiralling severity of the situation. The three women of Corinth, Penny Layden, Jo McInnes and Amy Trigg add a surprising element to proceedings as they blur the lines between observer and participant in what can’t be the easiest of performances for any of them.
This production of Medea is a shining example of how classics can be produced with bold choices which updated the story while not diminishing the impact or integrity of the original. Two elements responsible for the resounding success of this production are Dominic Cookes direction and the acting on stage itself, particularly in sensational fashion from both Sophie Okonedo and Ben Daniels.
Completely captivating to watch, Medea had me on the edge of my seat and was yet another example of the impact theatre can have when it is executed with such meticulous care. There’s nothing tragic about this show – it’s 3 out of 3 for @sohoplace.
Medea plays at @sohoplace until 22nd April. Tickets from https://sohoplace.org/
Photos by Manuel Harlan and Johan Persson