Arts & Culture

20th April 2023

Medea at Soho Place | Review

This review is a submission by Theo Brown, a member of the Liverpool University Drama Society (LUDS).

Review of Medea. Soho Place. Directed by Dominic Cooke. 10 February – 22 April 2023


When I saw Sophie Okonedo play Cleopatra a few years ago, I thought she made her co-star Ralph Fiennes look dull. So hearing she would be playing the most influential female protagonist in theatre was of great excitement to me. The show, including and perhaps because of Okonedo’s electric performance, did not disappoint these expectations. Her ability to portray Medea with a trustworthy manipulation was nail-biting: just as she manipulates the characters to get what she wants, the audience too is manipulated to believe (at times anyway) she is in the right. She employed a variety of tactics that were so subtle in the different ways she interacted with the other characters. Despite Daniels being the louder of the two, it was Okonedo who you were always drawn towards, from the enticing facial expressions to the dramatic body language and of course the outburst of emotion.

Ben Daniels’ performance was also brilliant, which he integrated into the in-the-round staging through his constant slo-mo walking around the stage when not in character. This also worked with the context of the play (the audience being the women of Corinth) as you really felt like you were always there, being addressed to and being part of the happenings of the city. He had great range across his five characters (Jason, Creon, Aegeus, Pedagogue & Messenger), many of which were strong, powerful, and masculine which he managed to present in different ways. His depiction of Aegeus was notably funny as a liberal and camp man, mixing ancient Greek stereotypes of Athenians with a modern interpretation. The projection Daniels’ managed to reach with his voice, never shouting but always powerful and loud, was supported by his muscular body which he used with such energy and presence that it left many saying he stole the show. But it is the nuanced variation within a single character that makes Okonedo the real star.

The in-the-round staging was an amazing use of the space, leaving no one in the audience missing anything which is a testament to the blocking of Cooke. A minimal set was used, just a little wall around the staircase coming up from underneath. This allowed a fantastic fluidity throughout the play as well as relying on the acting to project the power rather than distracting set changes. The simplicity of this timeless stage, minimal sound and basic lighting worked well with this near-3000-year-old play, allowing the immense performances to carry the Greek story. The stage echoed Greek history, with the offstage action performed underneath from where we could hear the shrieks that would have been heard from the building in a Greek theatre. This was a brilliant way of combining the Greek style with the modern in-the-round set. This was further done by the three women placed in the audience, together delivering the opinions of the Greek Chorus, further involving the audience in the action.

The rain on stage was introduced gradually over the course of the final act and it reached a dramatic climax at the end, the cast all drenched from emotion as much as from the rain. Then this combined with Medea’s blood-covered emergence from below which was like a mythological Greek creature. The modern helicopter sound effects seemed unnecessary, taking you out of the drama of the otherwise timeless production. However, this is my only criticism of the play and a minor one at that. The abrupt end was shocking (although a Deus Ex Machina moment with the bodies draped over a chariot could have been the finishing touch perhaps), without the often tedious discussions of Medea’s actions by the Nurse and Chorus – this left the audience in a moment of horror, without any sense of catharsis. This production did Euripides proud and it is no wonder Medea holds the record for the female character with the most awards.

Cover Image by Jacques GAIMARD from Pixabay