The Almeida is in the middle of its Greeks festival presenting new versions of classical Greek tragedies. Euripedes’
Fleetwood and Salinger conduct interminable shouting matches over mobile phones, their inability to see eye to eye an increasingly tense and frustrating spectacle for the audience who can sympathise with Medea far more than any of the characters she encounters.
Kate Fleetwood is ferocious as Cusk’s modern incarnation of the classical heroine who kills her own children to wreak revenge on her husband after he leaves her for a new, younger wife. Fleetwood’s Medea is a writer who continues to live in the sleek split level apartment she shared with her estranged actor husband, Jason (Justin Salinger). The set is beautifully designed by Ian MacNeil making full use of the Almeida’s curved architecture. Medea refuses to keep her anger silent whilst the characters around her become increasingly frustrated by behaviour that they see as irrational, overblown and largely self-inflicted. The play is most pertinent when exposing ingrained sexist attitudes towards relationships especially in the cruelly accurate characterisation of Medea’s judgemental mother (an inspired performance by Amanda Boxer) a woman filled to bursting with middle class English bile of the worst kind.
Another clever choice is to re-imagine the all-female chorus as a band of yuppy mothers. Draped in colourful robes over their jeans in a nod to classicism they pet plastic dolls and chat frivolously about the latest celebrity diets, telling Medea’s story like a new piece of juicy social gossip. As the play continues the set really comes into its own dismantled into a bleak blood red landscape as Medea’s mind becomes more unhinged. Fleetwood and Salinger conduct interminable shouting matches over mobile phones, their inability to see eye to eye an increasingly tense and frustrating spectacle for the audience who can sympathise with Medea far more than any of the characters she encounters. Even her black cleaner (Michele Austin) who has been through a similar break-up is infuriatingly passive in her acceptance of her fate whilst Andy de la Tour is a disgustingly patronising and perverted Creon.
Although Fleetwood’s performance is electrifying, she oscillates between icy control and deranged anger, Cusk’s interpretation of the tragedy falls apart in the last quarter. A confusing choice to omit the filicide is bizarre given that it is this act which gives the play its horror. Cusk forgets that Medea is as much about the destruction that comes from losing all control as it is about the power of men over women. The lines between the original story and the modern feminist retelling blur to such an extent that some of original power of the tragedy is lost.