Medea – scheming witch, evil woman who killed her children? Or beloved of and then betrayed by Jason? Euripides play – no wonder it won a prize – was first staged in Athens in 431 BCE..
Tonight’s performance was filmed at London’s National Theatre, strangely enough their first ever production of Medea.
An introduction tells us that women kill their children usually after the breakup of a relationship and often within two weeks of the break-up. Usually again, it is boy-children who are killed. I don’t know the stats for this but it seems to me that children are more likely to be killed by the male partner after a break-up and as a revenge. A man scorned…
This production has Helen McRory playing Medea and with a vengeance.Interestingly, some of the actors are black, some white and, more interestingly, there was no significance attached to colour of the actors.
Medea is splendid in her anger and so vibrant that, for a moment, Jason is overcome with passion for her. But only for a moment. He is after all, having abandoned Medea, about to be married to a more sociably acceptable woman, daughter of the royal house of Corinth..
Medea picks up on this: ” Let’s say, for the sake of old times, that I don’t despise you,” she says smiling. That got a laugh. Jason is a vile gobshite, abusive and ready to put Medea down for her “barbarity”.
But then, as her plan takes root and she cosies up to him in order to manipulate him, we start to feel a certain sympathy for him.
Once the deed is done, there is an electric moment when Jason comes on stage to ask – ” My sons, where are my sons. I must go to them.” While we, oh fearsome irony, know something he doesn’t – that his beloved sons are already dead.
The final scene shows Medea picking up the wrapped bodies of her children and walking into the distance, bloody but unbowed. The message is clear: She has kept faith with the woman she is and no one can take that from her.
I first became aware of Medea when I learned that the mythical country of Colchis has a basis in fact: it is thought to be present-day Georgia. Medea was a princess of Colchis and in Georgia. I discovered that the evil woman of Euripides play is portrayed as such by the Greeks whereas in Georgia she is revered as a healer.
I went to Georgia when it was part of the Soviet Union and travelled round it by bus and bike – not an easy thing to do in the Soviet Union where lone writers were viewed with suspicion. I soon found out, however, that many people there were members of the Communist Party for convenience rather than idealism and that when barriers were erected by the Party, the very people who helped me climb over the barriers were the same people – ie party members – who had erected them in the first place. As they say in Yorkshire – there’s nowt as queer as folk.
If you’re interested in all this, please have a look at my website http://www.maryrussell.info where you’ll find news of my travel book about Georgia: Please Don’t Call it Soviet Georgia, soon to be issued as an e book.