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Published 22 July 2014

What’s it all about?

Let’s start with a warning: Ben Power’s adaptation of the classic Greek tragedy is the darkest night you’ll likely ever spend in the National Theatre. But it might also just prove the most electrifying.

Medea has sacrificed all for the love of her husband Jason. But when she discovers he is to marry another she embarks on a gruesome spree of revenge, shutting down her motherly instincts to break Jason’s heart in the most violent and horrific way possible. I told you it was dark.

Who’s in it?

Helen McCrory is outstanding in the title role of Carrie Cracknell’s horror film-inspired production. Appearing to us first wild and savage, she is a rollercoaster of insanity. Unpredictable and animalistic, grotesquely twisted yet often on the brink of wide-eyed, heartbroken hysteria, for her slight appearance McCrory is an overwhelming presence.

Danny Sapani’s Jason, for all his confidence and stature, is no competition for her dark, magical tyranny, while Michaela Coel mirrors perfectly the audience’s increasing sense of fear and unease with a powerful performance as the show’s narrator.

What should I look out for?

Within Cracknell’s pacey 90 minute production is a whole world of detail and theatrical brilliance. Film fans won’t fail to miss the nods to iconic screen images, from the scenic parallels of Tom Scutt’s intriguing set to Lars von Trier’s equally disturbing Melancholia, to the less subtle references to The Shining as Medea’s identically dressed boys scoot silently across the stage on a tricycle and swing in perfect unison in the wooded backdrop.

This uniformed choreography continues with a chorus of women clad in floral bridesmaid dresses who perform Goldfrapp’s stunning, otherworldly score. As Medea smokes liquorice roll-ups and overflows with rage, this coven remains perfectly in synch as they watch fearfully on. As the tyranny unfolds, they become frenzied; Lucy Guerin’s staccato choreography transforming them into a collective of possessed ballerinas, limbs twitching and faces terrifyingly vacant.

In a nutshell?

Carrie Cracknell’s terrifying Medea is a disturbing but thrilling theatrical experience that will have you revelling in its beauty and revolting in its darkness all at once.

What’s being said on Twitter?

‏@MoiraSinclair1 Medea @NationalTheatre. Trapped and in despair, Helen McCrory’s performance gives dreadful clarity to the drive to commit the worst of acts.

@MrStevieWebb Just about resumed a steady pulse after a spine-tingling and harrowing production of #Medea @NationalTheatre. #DontGoDownToTheWoodsToday

Will I like it?

You might need a strong drink afterwards and one of Medea’s fags to unwind from what is a deeply unsettling experience, but it’s worth the quickening of your heart rate. An exhilarating mass of contradictions, Cracknell’s horrifying production is fitful yet graceful, thrilling yet emotionally draining, grotesque but rousing and, above all, stunning to watch. Even if you have to keep your eyes closed for some of it.

Medea is playing until 4 September as part of the venue’s Travelex season, with more than half the seats for every performance £15. You can book tickets through the National Theatre website.


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