Tucked behind towers, turrets, and quads, Christ Church Cathedral Garden lies out of sight, out of mind. This week, one hundred pairs of prying eyes will stare fixated, with bated breath, on a lonesome leafy enclave, not knowing – not wanting to know – the horrors itching to spill forth. Medea, in all its grisly glory, has returned to the spotlight this May for what promises to be an unforgettable production.
The outdoor set, but a small earthen stage, prostrates itself bare beneath fading beams of sunlight and the gentle rustling of two aged trees. Silent, bar the whims of nature, a figure emerges. Pearly white clad garments afloat in the breeze, the nurse rhymes off a brief prologue in lyrical Greek and the audience, mesmerised from the outset, are transported back to the Dionysia.
From offstage, a shrill shriek fills the air: Medea has plunged headlong into a frenzy of despair. The voice, of course, belongs to that of certain Alma Prelec, who, it must be said, inhabits this complex character with prodigious ease.
Tensions stir and swell as commotion gushes onto the congested stage. With the arrival of Creon, played by Jas Rajput, things reach a feverish pitch. First abandoned by her husband for Creon’s daughter (Glauce), now, she is also to be banished, cast aside. As if walking a tightrope, Rajput strides regally left and right along the outermost perimeter of the stage – the bustling set scarcely able to contain such excitement. So close, in fact, that the hissing laments of Medea send a perfect chill down one’s spine.
Like a caged animal, lunging this way and that, Prelec’s sheer dynamism makes full use of every square inch of space available. Sprawled across the ground, pleading with the hardened king, the murderess clasps at the gravelly soil. Savage though Medea undoubtedly is, there is something palpably natural, untamed about the physicality of these stage directions. Yet, even wild beasts, let alone ‘barbarians’, rarely exhibit the ruthlessness with which Medea lashes out. Capriciously, she lusts after the gruesome details of Glauce’s untimely end. Smelling, swooning, salivating she feasts on the trembling Servant’s (Jacob Warne) stuttered words. Head reclined, Medea falls into a fit of quivering-lipped ecstasy, a sickly voyeuristic convulsion.
She is a mother who loathes the father of her sons more than she loves those same children. As long as they live, she is mixed with Jason and he with her: by this she cannot abide. The last bitter drops must be poured, and Prelec reliably delivers with unparalleled acerbity.
Stellar performances in the respective roles of Jason (Christian Amos), Aegeus (Tom Jackson) and the Chorus, especially during the choral odes, bring O. Taplin’s translation to life.
The director, Helena Khullar, bucks the trend of recent modern adaptations, preferring a more traditional, character-driven interpretation of the ancient text. Quite literally, the audience are lured along the garden path, on course for a crash collision with the play’s “emotionally unbalancing” conclusion. What will become of her children, will she “destroy her soul in a quest for vengeance?” As the sun sets, the cloak of night descends on the stage, their troubled fates wisped away into the deadening darkness. Truly, this is a must-see!
Medea will be running from Thursday 21st of May to Saturday 23rd in Christ Church Cathedral Garden.