Edinburgh review: Medea – The Hub

First published in The Times, Monday August 15 2022


Liz Lochhead’s celebrated adaptation of Euripides first took Edinburgh by storm in 2001 in an award-winning production by Theatre Babel at the Assembly Rooms, with Maureen Beattie in the title role. It has taken more than 20 years for the play to make the short journey from New Town to Old, and from the Fringe to the international festival, courtesy of Michael Boyd’s revival for the National Theatre of Scotland.

Boyd’s staging may not quite live up to the remarkable folk memory of Graham McLaren’s original, but this Medea is still a formidable, immersive experience. Tom Piper’s deceptively simple set design, which posts the actors on a raised runway platform, with the audience standing beneath, offers a striking mouse’s eye view of the action. Lochhead’s glibly funny all-female chorus emerges from this throng, appearing as if from nowhere, and only gradually ascending to the stage. There is some notable discomfort among the audience (heat rises, and in this venue, we are at the very top of the city), but at 80 minutes, the action fairly blasts through the hall.

Pic: Jessica Shurte

In Lochhead’s version, the protagonist’s status as an outsider in Corinth is partly recognised through her use of standard English where the other characters alternate between English and Scots. Adura Onashile in the lead role is commanding — preening and self-possessed one minute, pushed to the edge of reason by her anger and grief the next. As with all Greek tragedy, there is an inevitability to the outcome of Medea’s campaign of vengeance against her duplicitous husband Jason, but Onashile’s carefully nuanced performance creates the sense of a terrible dilemma that could yet go either way.

In a play structured as a series of one-to-one encounters, the supporting cast is also strong, from Anne Lacey’s loyal, apprehensive nurse to Stephen McCole, brutal and entitled as Kreon, to Robbie Jack’s Jason, the at times skin-crawling embodiment of the weaselling, ingratiating social-climber.

Pic: Jessica Shurte

Boyd’s simple staging, lit with economy by Colin Grenfell, and with a lean percussive soundtrack created by James Jones, shrewdly keeps the focus on the performances, and the muscular writing. There is respite in Lochhead’s text in the form of witty asides and the blunt interventions of the chorus, but it never flinches in its confrontation with the play’s horrors, rendered in an exacting poetry, so that the gruesome denouement is no less viscerally evoked for having taken place off stage. 
To August 28, eif.co.uk


Author: Allan Radcliffe

I am a writer, freelance journalist, subeditor and theatre critic, based in South Queensferry. My short fiction has been published in anthologies such as Out There, Elsewhere, The Best Gay Short Stories, ImagiNation, Markings, Gutter, New Writing Scotland and Celtic View. I have won the Scottish Book Trust's New Writer's Award and several of my stories have been adapted for broadcast on BBC Radio 4. As a journalist I write regularly for The Times, the Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, Sunday Herald, Sunday Times, Metro, Big Issue and I was formerly assistant editor of The List magazine.

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