Medea at Bristol Old Vic

This is the first time I’ve been to the Old Vic, apart from a Christmas show. I’ve always thought of it as a slightly pretentious place, not necessarily somewhere I’d feel comfortable. It’s a beautiful building, though currently undergoing renovation which makes access interesting. The friend I was with has poor mobility and, although we don’t usually need to arrange anything special for her, in terms of access as this building currently stands it would have been a very good idea as there were multiple sets of steps up and down to get to the seats. The staff were incredibly helpful though, and we now know that if we go there again while the works are on to make sure that we do mention it when booking.

I am amazed at how much I loved Medea. I thought it would be a bit of entertainment, probably a little miserable what with all the Greek tragedy and likely to be full of references to things that went way above my head. It was none of these things. Although it’s always possible that references flew so far over my head that I didn’t even notice them of course.

There are only six people on stage, all female, and each playing multiple parts with seamless changes between roles. The script is part rhyming and part sung, and the singing is incredible, layers of perfect voices wrapping around each other and frequently with the actors bodies also providing percussion and emphasis. It is stunningly beautiful.

This Medea is two interlocking stories, one ancient Greek and one modern. Akiya Henry plays both Medea and Maddy, two women who have been badly wronged by their husbands Jason and Jack, both played by Stephanie Levi-John in a tale about strong women, played by an entirely female cast. Both women refuse the advice of others to ‘put up with it’, to ‘calm down’ and ‘move on’ and to stop fighting against the injustices of losing their homes and their children’s security, and instead seek revenge and control of their own destinies in very different ways.

Jason and Jack are both obnoxious, unreasonable and self-justifying. It’s scary how both monstrous and familiar the words, excuses and blame spouting from their mouths is. Ultimately the women win, though one at a huge cost. Despite the wrongness put upon the women (and the horror of one of the storylines), it is full of moments that make us laugh, especially when Medea/Maddie fool their husbands into thinking they’re tamed and beaten. The men here are so self-righteous and desperate to lose this obstacle that’s preventing them from ditching their responsibilities and shacking up with a new younger/more royal bird that they are oblivious to the ridiculousness and unlikeliness of what they’re hearing

I’m very much hoping to go back to the Old Vic for more performances like this. I could listen to those voices weaving around each other all day, even without the strong storyline and the visual perfection of the monochrome set with it’s geometric simplicity. Once again I have tried something that isn’t for the likes of me, and found that it very, very much is.


Medea plays at Bristol Old Vic until 27th May

Image by Jack Offord, with thanks

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