Review of Medea
Under the leadership of Barry Rutter, the company’s founder and Artistic Director, Northern Broadsides has earned a reputation for the quality and precision of their classical productions, delivered with a gritty energy - all perfect qualifications for bringing Euripides’ ground-breaking tragedy Medea to life. Whilst previous dramas had examined the depths to which revenge could drag men, this was the first time a woman was depicted as being so unstoppably and unconsciously cruel in seeking to punish Jason, her wayward husband, and Mr Rutter’s production does not sugar-coat this descent in any way. In the title role, Nina Kristofferson starts with an intensity that seems must inevitably flag; amazingly, it - and she - doesn’t. One stage for the whole play, uninterrupted even by an interval, she takes us on an intense dramatic journey without ever releasing her grip. Being the only ’southerner’ in the cast chimes well with the fact that Corinth (the setting itself being another departure for Greek drama) is Medea’s adopted home. In other ways, the play (and this production) largely conforms with the original Greek model, a form that works very well overall: the ’moving through treacle’ gestural style, the format of alternating monologues and duologues punctuated by the Chorus, and the non-naturalistic delivery all shift this to a type of mythic story-telling that makes you realise Brecht profited handsomely from Greek gifts. It could have gone further - the use of masks for the Chorus must at least have been considered, and would have allowed their numbers to be swelled by other actors doubling up; but then we would have lost some of the beautiful expressiveness of Michelle Hardwick, Barbara Hockaday, and Heather Phoenix, and the conceptual link this trio make with Northern Broadsides’ Shakespearean work. Like Emma Wee’s excellent Edwardian costumes and expressionistic set, the blues-based music - all played live by members of the company - works surprisingly well; though the percussive elements, being less time-specific, gelled slightly better with the production as a whole. However, whilst a drum is a drum, a cymbal a cymbal, and a bell a bell, no matter how modern, there is a jarring, anachronistic visual impact of a saxophone, an electronic keyboard, an electric guitar; the equivalent of the costumes having zips instead of buckles and buttons. Entrances and exits are well-handled well, though a greater variety in the actors’ on-stage journeys would have been welcome, even if breaking a little with the Greek tradition. With these journeys feeling as formal as other aspects of the production, the fact that it doesn’t slip into ’sameishness’ is as much tribute to Tom Paulin’s vibrantly idiomatic version of the play as to the skills of the performers. Where adherence to the form really comes into its own is in the matter-of-fact way some of the most disturbing passages are delivered. With writing describing horrors the classical equivalent of napalm, there is no need for histrionics. This is never better proven than when news arrives of the death of King Creon and his daughter (Jason’s new wife), and I made a mental note to check the name of the actor playing the messenger. It turned out to be Barry Rutter himself. A special mention also has to be made of Cleo Sylvestre, who, as the Nurse, has the difficult dual tasks of doing some unfashionably expositional scene-setting and simultaneously drawing the audience into the style of the piece. She does so with a perfectly judged naivety, and has the audience sitting as expectantly as children who have heard a favourite story-teller utter the phrase "Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin."
Copyright © 2011 Nina Kristofferson´s All rights reserved.
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