By Danielle Farrow
This version of Seneca’s Medea, translated by Emily Wilson, has a great flow to its language, retaining the invocations to the gods and the descriptions of their associations. These were not always clear – the chorus of two women for a while actually being more intelligible when speaking together than separately – but Liz Rodgers as Medea, once in full flood, managed to bring life to these incantations and lists of qualities, as the story of Medea’s revenge on Jason unfolded.
This Medea is a woman of power, passion and raging fury, with moments of true pain, feared for by her eunuch (replacing the original Nurse character), held in fear by King Creon, whose daughter Medea’s husband Jason has just wed, and both feared and drawn to by Jason, the ‘hero’ for whom Medea has performed many crimes. These include the killing of her own brother, to stop her father’s pursuit of the couple fleeing with the stolen Golden Fleece. His betrayal, too, moves her to another act of horror, which, while clearly played, did not quite move as it should.
The previous tales of Medea and Jason’s journey are referred to clearly enough to register with those who may not yet know their story, but do require focused attention to make sure of understanding them. Jay Paul Skelton’s direction does help this focus, with a starkly coloured set up – a blood red rug for Medea, floor lit, centre stage, seating for audience on three sides, a central hanging light, black high stools for the other characters along the back and speakers for various sounds and music such as storms brewing and ‘Can‘t Help Falling in Love‘ – which means that the main lighting for the room itself is used before the central lighting concentrates on Medea alone. There is also a triangle or cymbal ‘ting’ for shifts in thought and scenes, played live and helping to shift focus and mood.
This kind of staging, with clarity in its costuming that has Medea in a flowing white shift-like dress while the others are in black dresses and suits as for a cocktail party, places the onus of the production on the words and the presentation of them. Medea herself is the only performer who has some real connection to her body, though the Eunuch (Nik Way) pours all he can into his voice, achieving some moments of genuine tension. Physically, though, the script called for more fevered and embodied conjuring on Medea’s part, than that offered here.
Overall, though, the central performance of Rodgers carried this production from KUDOS (of Kingston University), once she was connecting well with the flow of words and shifting thoughts and feelings clearly. The use of a loudspeaker near the end drained Jason’s words of even what little feeling had been managed earlier, but the clarity of the staging and the central performance, along with the driving script, kept attention and made this Medea one worth watching.