Okonedo is perfectly cast as the jilted wife of Jason, banished into exile when he leaves her for King Creon's daughter Creusa. Medea won’t go quietly, and in the body of Okonedo, her anguish is palpable in every step, frown and word spat in disgust. She’s exquisite to watch, lacing her pain with brooding-turned-manic energy and cleverly timed, wicked humour.
Sophie Okonedo and Ben Daniels in Medea @sohoplace. Photo: Johan Persson
Ben Daniels, playing the myth’s men Creon, Jason and Aegeus, matches Okonedo’s intensity without attempting to dominate it – despite the fact two of his three characters are determined to stamp Medea out. Shrugging each identity on and off, he plays the visiting friend Aegeus as a typical ‘gay best friend’, charming and full of gossip (until Medea threatens him, anyway), while as Jason, we see him crumple, disbelieving and furious, as an arrogant man who loses his world in two fell swoops. When not an active player in this bitter tragedy, Daniels prowls the parameters of the stage in slow motion, like a hunter, perhaps, or a predator waiting to strike.
Showing at new in-the-round theatre @sohoplace, Cooke’s take on Euripides’ ancient drama unfolds on Vicki Mortimer’s virtually bare set. A tiled courtyard bathed in lighting designer Neil Austin’s ring of gold is Medea’s confined pacing ground. The all-female chorus, here just three performers, are dotted among us audience members, and we’re greeted by those on stage as the women of Corinth. It’s a neat idea which could make effective use of the space, but with just three voices passing comment on rotation, it doesn’t land as powerfully as it might.
Ben Daniels and Marion Bailey in Medea @sohoplace. Photo: Manuel Harlan
As is tradition for Greek drama, the violence takes place off-stage and here, Mortimer has designed a sloping staircase tunnelling below the stage. This hidden chamber proves a mercy for the awful scene involving the murder of Medea’s two small children, played adorably by real-life brothers Oscar Coleman and Eiden-River Coleman on press night. However, it’s less effective – jarring even – early on, when for her first scene, Medea is a disembodied voice coming from below.
Cooke has worked with American poet Robinson Jeffers’ adaptation of Euripides’ play, which is easy to follow, homing in on the feelings, intentions and actions of its central characters. Jeffers gives Medea some wonderfully empowering lines calling out the hardships faced by women, with which Okonedo rallies our support. Her steadily building performance has us rooting for Medea's justice until the unspeakable happens.
|What||Medea, @sohoplace review|
|Where||@sohoplace , 4 Soho Street , London, W1D 3BG | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Tottenham Court Road (underground)|
10 Feb 23 – 22 Apr 23, 7:30 PM – 9:00 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and to book|