Review: Medea


by Mike Matthaiakis

Dominic Cooke’s production of “Medea,” featuring a compelling adaptation by Robinson Jeffers, unfolds with austere elegance, emotional astuteness, and an intense exploration of Medea’s character. Sophie Okonedo delivers a towering performance as Medea—ferociously intelligent, coolly rational, wounded but unbroken. The stark set by Vicki Mortimer, with a paved stone disc and basement steps, becomes the canvas for a tragedy in slow motion, where Gareth Fry’s sound design, accompanied by ticking and pulsing, sets the stage for inevitable destruction.

Okonedo’s portrayal of Medea is captivating, portraying the character as a woman constantly othered, labeled a “barbarian” and a “witch.” Despite the foreigner status and racial prejudices she faces, Medea maintains a regal poise, even as tears stream down her face. The cost of Jason’s treachery, the physical and emotional betrayal, propels her vengeance into a brutal act of self-harm and purgation. The anticipation for the slaying of her children is intensified as she reappears in a chic black dress, exuding a dangerous cheerfulness.

Marion Bailey, as Medea’s Nurse, provides a helpless ally, while three women of Corinth act as a chorus, offering commentary and pleading from the audience. The lighting design by Neil Austin keeps the stage exposed, emphasizing the lack of privacy, a theme relevant to our modern society of constant surveillance and prurience. The play’s staging seamlessly blends mythic and modern elements, addressing misogyny and paternalism in Medea’s encounters with men, portrayed compellingly by Ben Daniels.

Daniels, shifting between the swaggering Jason, lascivious Creon, and campy Aegeus, contributes to the play’s resonances with contemporary relevance. The production explores themes of surveillance, rumor, and societal expectations. The climactic horror, enveloped in screams, thunder, lightning, rain, and sirens, leaves an indelible impact. Medea emerges from the carnage defiant, irrevocably damaged, yet cleansed—a testament to Okonedo’s sensational performance and Cooke’s riveting direction. “Medea” stands as a powerful and relevant exploration of vengeance, betrayal, and the enduring impact of societal scrutiny.

Medea is @SohoPlace