In the National Theatre of Scotland’s spectacular staging of Liz Lochhead’s retelling of Euripides’s ‘Medea’, the addition of snarling Scottish dialect works brilliantly, with scatterings of words like ‘greet,’ ‘blether,’ and ‘bairn’ adding extra layers of menace and seduction to the shocking tragedy.
They’re also expertly articulated. The actors are masters of their characters: Robert Jack’s Jason is cocky and gruff, while lead Adura Onashile plays Medea with a grace and command that makes her seem otherworldly, spitting her words out like poison. Still, she manages to convince us to feel sympathy for her: Medea betrayed her family for Jason, who abandoned her and their children to marry the King’s daughter, leaving them with no one.
The ancient Greek tragedy is played out at an excitingly fast pace: there’s no time for chit-chat, only lust, jealousy, and fear. It becomes a case of man versus woman and violence versus cunning: tensions are impenetrable and silences are heavy, each interaction and entrance calculated with spectacular attention to detail. When Medea and Jason kiss, it’s with the sharp sting of passion and hate, and it feels grossly intimate to watch.
Taking place in the stunning surroundings of the Hub, the entire production is beautifully lit by designer Colin Grenfell, while shatters of symbols and ringing drums are projected from above the stage by composer James Jones. Performers stride up and down an elevated ‘T’ shape, a narrow runway leading from an ominous dark door right out into the standing crowds of the audience. Here, ten women appear randomly from the mass of spectators, actors of different shapes, ages and ethnicities. One signs. They clamber onto raised stools, chanting haunting words of wisdom and malice. It’s unclear if this is Medea’s conscious speaking or if it’s a metaphor for womanhood, but it creates an intensified gravity and uneasiness.
As the story plays out, Michael Boyd’s suspenseful production enters a whole other level. It becomes clear that Medea is rotting from within and she plots a crime more gruesome and evil than we could ever imagine. Transfixing, bloody, and reeking of danger, it’s a beautiful production with triumphant acting, and images that will linger in your mind for hours after ending.