Medea - Bristol Old Vic

"Men tell us that we are lucky to live safe at home while they take up their spears and go to war. Well, that's a lie. I'd sooner stand behind a shield three times in battle than give birth once."

George Mann's all female production of Medea at the Bristol Old Vic intertwines Euripides' text with the story of a modern woman whose life draws distinct parallels to the play's heroine.
The modern text, written by Chino Odimba, tells the story of Maddy. She has been left by her husband (Jack) for a younger woman and must now raise their children alone. This story beautifully articulates the truth behind Medea's dismay and encourages us to understand that she is not simply a scorned, hysterical, woman who kills her children to revenge a man that no longer loves her. Rather, she is a woman who gave up her entire life "showing more love than sense", to serve the needs of her husband and sons, while he is able to pursuit his own greatness. Only, to be cast aside and banished to exile once she is no longer of use to him. More than ever, this production highlights the freedom that Medea has sacrificed for Jason and unveils the injustice of her new-found destitution. Maddy's story highlights just how pertinent and relevant a truth this can be within our modern world. Inspired by Medea, she learns to fight for her freedom.

Akiya Henry (Medea, Maddy), brings a powerful, grounded depth to Medea. Although she is deeply tortured, expressing a pain that permeates and can't be shaken, the sincerity and clarity of her anguish leads this character far away from malice and hysteria. We are presented with a very real, very betrayed woman, fighting to be afforded equality for the years she has sacrificed. Stephanie Levi-John embodies both Jason and Jack with reason, pragmatism and a startling amount of understanding. What we see is not a man who relishes in being unreasonable or selfish, but someone who is trying his best to make things right. His lines incur strong reactions from the audience at moments when he fails to see the reality so deeply, that he veers towards misogyny. But yet, in spite of this, we can't manage to hate him. It is clear that he not a villain. Jessica Temple, Kezrena James, Eleanor Jackson and Michelle Fox are equally exemplary in their roles, using powerful physicality and pitch-perfect vocals. This is an ensemble of the highest calibre.

George Mann was driven to create this production after reading Robin Robertson's translation of Medea. Through his text, he found a woman that was deeply misunderstood and whose "tragedy [is] all too real". He recalls the way in which his mother had to "fight twice as hard" as his father, after their divorce and sought to present a version of Medea that could encompass the very real plight that both she and modern women must still endure. Chino Odimba's text weaves its own beautiful poetry into that of Robin Robertson's and drives a strong and empathetic narrative that both challenges and confronts our own societal era. The soundscape designed and Co-Conducted by Jon Nicholls, sets a deep and poignant layer to this vivid tale.

Shizuka Hariu's Set Design begins minimalist and understated, yet quickly becomes breathtaking as Medea ascends the stairs to the heavens. This is accentuated by Katherine William's lighting, that subtly shifts us from one world to the next.

This truly is theatre at its very best. A spectacular company has formed to present the highest quality in all aspects of production and I couldn't recommend it highly enough.

Author's review: