Medea – reviews of National Theatre's 'thrilling' update

Jul 24, 2014

Helen McCrory a 'scorching' heroine in 'horribly gripping' update of Euripides's Greek tragedy

Richard Hubert Smith
What you need to know

A new adaptation of Euripides's Medea starring Helen McCrory has opened at the National Theatre, London. Carrie Cracknell directs Ben Power's new version of the ancient Greek tragedy, which also features music by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp.

McCrory stars as Medea, the barbarian wife of Jason, the Greek hero who won the Golden Fleece. When Medea learns that Jason plans to raise his social standing by marrying the daughter of Creon, King of Corinth, she plots a terrible, self-destructive revenge. Runs until 4 September.

What the critics like

This ancient play still "speaks to us with astonishing directness across the millennia in a raw 90-minute modern-dress production that never relaxes the dramatic tension", says Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph. This thrilling and merciless version leaves you feeling both appalled and strangely elated - the sure sign that a tragedy has hit its mark.

McCrory gives a performance of scorching emotional power in this "horribly gripping, scrupulously judicious production", says Paul Taylor in The Independent. She brilliantly conveys the heroine's formidability and vulnerability and the bleak hollowness of her triumph - unforgettable.

The virtue of this version is that it "avoids quasi-operatic grandeur to present us with a recognisable human being who is alive with contradictions", says Michael Billington in The Guardian. It creates a complex portrait of an insane, profoundly pitiable character, more suited to modern tastes than Euripides's original.

What they don't like

"Curiously, this production isn't quite as harrowing as it ought to be," says Kate Bassett in The Times. There are small, distractingly weak points including the limp chorus, and updating the action to modern times doesn't make consistent sense.

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