Soho Place, London
Adapted by Robinson Jeffers from the play by Euripides
Directed by Dominic Cooke
Sophie Okonedo bestrides the Soho Place like a colossus such is the depth and power of her Medea. In Robinson Jeffers’ adaptation of Euripides’ classic tale, hers indeed is “a bitter thing to be a woman”. Betrayed and dumped by husband Jason for the beautiful young daughter of Creon, her fury is palpable and in a 90 minute one-act telling of the old yarn, Okonedo burns at its core like a brilliant flaming torch.
But Medea’s infernal misandry towards Creon and Jason is matched only by that of director and co-producer Dominic Cooke, who lumps all of the play’s adult male roles onto the solo shoulders of the unquestionably talented Ben Daniels. We have been here before with Cooke’s mean spirted multi-role casting in his recent Good, a casting tendency that is not good. Daniels’ multi-faceted performance is a distraction, with his Aegeus proving annoyingly camp. Elsewhere Marion Bailey’s Nurse is a decent turn, however the Chorus of three women of Corinth, sprinkled amongst the stalls are a lacklustre trio.
It is when Okonedo speaks that the play becomes alive, such is her genius. But, save for Creon serving her with a Decree of Banishment that deliciously echoes Den Watts' 1986 serving of divorce papers on Angie, much of the other spoken parts are tedious.
As the horrific climax draws near, one is almost willing Medea to get on with it - such is the soggy (yes, there’s water) melodrama that the cast make of the play’s endgame. And (spoiler alert), when she does slaughter her boys (great work from the ice-cream slurpingly duo of Ben Connor and Heath Gee-Burrowes on press night) even then the audience is shortchanged, with the murders frustratingly happening offstage and represented only by Okonedo’s outstanding acting and her arms drenched in blood.
Okonedo is one of the most gifted actors of her generation. To have seen her murderous actions, rather than just her emotional reactions, could have made for a moment of outstanding theatre.
See this play for Okonedo’s work - she will be remembered as a magnificent Medea. Sadly, the production will not.