FESTIVAL REVIEW: Medea, Written in Rage

Last year, Bartlett’s puppetry-augmented Richard II was a miracle of invention, in comparison to which Medea feels like a disappointment, though one still resonant and meaningful.

Medea (crystallised by Euripides but a Greek mythic figure with many variations) appears here as a wraith, consumed by her own story, driven mad by the telling, doomed – like Cassandra or the Ancient Mariner – to recount her story over and over, a little more damaged and degraded each time, perhaps.

There are also shades of Beckett here, too, in that Medea’s monologue is broken, unbearable to repeat, but continuing by means of dislocations, outbursts and writhings that break the flow of narrative. Periodically she shouts ‘rewind’ and the onstage musician (impressively mixing the soundtrack in real-time) stops, changes tack, and allows Bartlett-as-Medea to recover.

This is also a multi-vocal performance, invoking different personas from different places and times. Contemporary voices mix with ancient, florid registers. Medea’s confessional tale of desire, obsession, exile, betrayal and murder – ‘the purity of crime’ – is fragmented, scattered throughout history. Gender is also in flux. Bartlett appears in drag, costumed in a way that references the ball-gown, the kimono, glam and funeral attire. Graphic descriptions of sexual violence are also floating in terms of their gender positions.

Medea is, finally, emblematic of non-western territories that are colonised, exploited, mistreated and abused. Exiled and destroyed, she is a pariah without home and without rest.

For me, the problem with the show was that, despite moments of arrest and surprise, Bartlett’s performance maintained a single emotional tone. The only variation was its intensity. Different voices came and went, but they all possessed the same overwrought tenor, which became increasingly tedious.

‘My destiny lies with those who live in torment,’ Medea proclaimed. I had known what she meant for the show’s last twenty minutes.

Saturday 26 May, 8pm

Theatre Royal

Review by Simon Murnau

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