Medea, Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, review
A disappointing script hampers Mike Bartlett’s modern-day adaptation of Medea at Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, writes Mark Brown.
No sooner had Mike Bartlett’s modern-day adaptation of Medea opened in preview than life imitated art with a brutal punctuality. In a scene horrifyingly similar to those described in Euripides’s drama of vengeful infanticide, ex-serviceman Michael Pedersen had, the police believed, taken the lives of his two young children and himself.
The parallel seemed all the more stark because in this co-production for the Citizens Theatre, Headlong and Watford Palace, Bartlett has transposed the story of the spurned princess of Colchis to a contemporary British terrace house. There, Medea (Rachael Stirling) seethes with rage against Jason (a perfectly smug and terrified Adam Levy), who has left her for the young and beautiful daughter of their landlord.
Facing eviction (following terrifying threats she has made against Jason’s bride-to-be) and unable to communicate with her young son Tom (who has turned silent and introverted in the wake of his parents’ separation), Medea teeters dangerously at the edge of catastrophe.
The drama that follows carries an often shuddering power. That is embedded, of course, in Euripides’s play. It also emerges from Stirling’s remarkable portrayal of the anti-heroine, which is, simultaneously, disconcertingly erratic and frighteningly implacable.
One wonders, however, just how much Bartlett’s adaptation brings to the table. The script, although intelligently sparse and witty (so much so that we are almost in the realms of superior TV sitcom at times), disappoints through its excessive concern to sound normal.
This is particularly true of Medea’s final speech, in which, as she stands holding Tom’s lifeless body, she talks of the child’s success in his maths test and his participation in the egg and spoon race. It is a truly absurd and misjudged attempt to juxtapose banality with evil.
Ruari Murchison’s set is similarly confined by obsessive modernity. Comprising a huge, photographic representation of identical terrace houses which slides back to reveal an assiduous copy of a show-home interior, it renders specific that which is universal in the tragedy.
One can’t help but feel that, rather than enhancing the tragedy for modern audiences, this adaptation reduces the moral weight of the play. One longs to see Stirling, who is potentially a great Medea, like her mother, Diana Rigg, freed from the constraints of Bartlett’s suburbia.
At the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow until October 13, then touring until Dec 1
For tour details, visit: headlongtheatre.co.uk
This review was originally published on the website of the Daily Telegraph on October 3, 2012
© Mark Brown