Medea (EIF)

August 17, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Towering

The Hub (EIF Venue): Wed 10 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Hugh Simpson

Medea, Liz Lochhead’s triumphant retelling of Euripides has returned to Edinburgh. The new production, at the Hub as part of the International Festival, boasts a Medea from Adura Onashile that will surely be every bit as legendary as Maureen Beattie was first time round.

The story of the woman who helped Jason bring home the Golden Fleece, who has now been abandoned by him and wreaks terrible vengeance, is one of the touchstones of Greek drama. Despite the modern elements of Lochhead’s version, Michael Boyd’s production is also wedded to many of the elements of classical theatre.

Adura Onashile (Medea) and chorus. Pic: J Shurte

The combination may not always work completely, but it is never less than impressive. Onashile’s performance is breathtaking – apparently self-assured, and full of majesty, but also hissing rage at her treatment, and conscious of being treated as an outsider and a potential danger. Her magnetism and anger make the terrible conclusions she comes to seem almost inevitable. There is a spark in her confrontations with Jason that makes them almost painful to watch.

Anne Lacey’s Nurse is another tremendous characterisation, with her poised pronouncements only just masking a terrible, doom-laden sadness.

There is also a ten-strong chorus of distinguished female performers, who emerge from the audience. They are wonderfully together but also make up a pleasingly diverse group, driving the action with their very presence.

conflicted

The men who control this complacent patriarchy, convinced of its own civilisation, unsurprisingly don’t come across as terribly likeable. Robert Jack’s oily Jason, sure of his role as hero and protector, tries to diminish Medea’s role in his success, while Stephen McCole’s Kreon is a politician, only doing what is right for his city. Nothing is personal, it’s just what has to be done.

Adam Robertson’s conflicted manservant and Alana Jackson, who gives Jason’s new bride Glauke a combination of seeming foolishness and obvious steel, round out a cast that also sees excellent performances from the young actors playing the children.

Adura Onashile (Medea) and chorus with Robert Jack (Jason) Pic J Shurte

Lochhead’s script, in Scots and Scots-inflected English, remains a gloriously versatile thing, and Boyd’s carefully surefooted direction, together with the percussion of James Jones, gives the whole thing a ceremonial air.

It is, paradoxically, the elements that make this a production that will surely linger long in the memory that are its greatest drawbacks. Some of the features that are most wedded to Greek tragedy – such as the chorus – seem brilliantly natural.

distancing

Other elements – the ritualistic feel, the whole fact that this performed in the middle of a standing audience – have a distancing effect. Tom Piper’s massive thrust stage is a wonder to behold, but it dominates the eye too much at times.

Standing there, you are too often aware (despite the obvious relevance) of the artificiality of it all. While an impressive spectacle, this means that it occasionally engages less than it might.

These are minor quibbles, however, considering the impact this production has, notably through its towering central performance.

Running time 1 hour 20 minutes (no interval)
Part of the Edinburgh international Festival
The Hub, Castlehill EH1 2NE
Wednesday 10 – Sunday 28 August 2022
Daily (not Mon) at 8pm
Matinees 14, 18, 20, 25 at 3pm;  Sun 28 at 3.00 pm only
Information and tickets: Book here.

Robert Jack (Jason), Adura Onashile (Medea) and chorus. Pic: J Shurte.jpg

ENDS

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