The original Greek tragedy of Medea was by Euripides, but Jean Anouilh’s 1947 version is fantastic and many thanks to the Wretched Strangers theatre company for choosing it as their first production.
Wilhelm as Medea reasoned and raged and her voice was commanding
Let’s get this straight: Medea is a bleak and bitter play. The main characters Medea and Jason are, frankly, despicable. They have history: Medea helped Jason get his hands on the golden fleece, but in doing so betrayed her family and killed her brother. For the following ten years, they were a sort of Bonnie and Clyde couple complicit in cheating, lying and stealing. However – and this is where the play picks up the action - Jason has decided to put his wild days behind him and settle down in Corinth (where he and Medea have temporary asylum) with Creusa, the daughter of the king, Creon.
Basically, Jason is dumping Medea and wants her to, well, just go away – and leave their two children with him. But where is she to go? She is an exile, unable to return to her homeland or to the other places she and Jason ravaged through together. She is an exile: “chased, beaten, scorned, without a country, without a home” as Medea’s nurse reminds her.
For this production, the stage setting was sparse. A black curtain served as a backdrop with light projections of a caravan (Medea’s current home) for the opening scenes and a fire for the closing ones. There were, then, no distractions from the speech and action.
Medea, played admirably by Camille Wilhelm, was unadorned too: plain black clothes with her hair scraped back off her face. There is nothing of the luxury she had as the daughter of a king. Wilhelm as Medea reasoned and raged and her voice was commanding, although the delivery seemed slightly rushed which depleted the tension and menace at times.
Piotr Mirowski played Jason as the smug, hypocritical chauvinist that he is. Massimo Guasti as a suited and booted King Creon, remained calm and statesmanlike but tellingly his arms were rigid at his side, his fists clenched, as Medea mocked him and bargained with him. Carole Le Clanche as the Nurse delivered a good final scene along with one of Jason’s men played by François Carpentier.
Perhaps the dramatic suspense and terror of the play was not fully realised. Overall, though, there was much to admire in this production, which stayed closely with Anouilh’s text.