The Times Reviews Medea 6

Very happy with today’s review of Medea by Libby Purves in The Times. Can’t link to it because it is hidden behind the great firewall of Murdoch. Taking a risk that News International’s lawyers are rather too busy to sue me for copyright, here it is:

Nadira Janikova sprang to attention over her affair and marriage with the whistleblowing British envoy to Uzbekistan, Craig Murray. She told the story in her show The British Ambassador’s Belly Dancer, containing the famous admission that the first time she saw him she thought: “Who is this old foreigner, does he have any money?”
Seven years on, as an actress, she radiates an exile’s determined vigour: a steely, competent, wounded, potentially ruthless brand of feminine strength, which makes her ideal casting for Euripides’ Medea in a sinewy new version by Stella Duffy, directed by Sarah Chew.
Medea after all, though a royal granddaughter of the Sun-god Helios, is the foreign wife of an Establishment man, Jason. Far from her roots and rejected, she becomes the avenging demon who kills her rival and her own two small sons.
Because the horrible story is familiar — Duffy uses the traditional prophetic, worried chorus of women to signpost it — it is mainly a meditation on motive and provocation, with Medea’s pain at its heart. Uninhibited howls of “dark, wild grief” and rage greet us from behind the marbled slabs of the set even before we sit down: when she appears, exotically scarfed, she rages about being foreign, deceived, betrayed and as fierce as any man.
For all the high language and the sinuous, scarf-twisting writhing, Janikova is most real in the more colloquial lines, as she contemplates her dark intent and flirts deceitfully with Jason, who is played by Richard Fry in blokey and exasperated Cockney, like an EastEnders geezer telling his stroppy girlfriend to “leave it off, darling”. That actually works rather well, giving a sense of grounded realpolitik to counterbalance Medea’s primitive rage. As he says soothingly “I don’t blame you, you’re a woman”, her eyes hood with dark intention.
Sarah Berger, powerful as the nurse, relates the revolting details of the bride’s death; two sweet twin boys (the Pleasance director’s, I am told) are seen, although mercifully their throats only get slit offstage. A grim but gripping hour, but worth the ride.
Box office: 0131-623 3030; to Aug 29

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6 thoughts on “The Times Reviews Medea

  • Tom Welsh

    “…the whistleblowing British envoy to Uzbekistan…”


    I thought you were the British Ambassador.

  • Azra

    I liked short clips of The Amabssdor’s Belly Dancer shown in TV (and Nadira’s interview). I thought she was very good actress and glad that there are good reviews for Medea. Many congratulations.

  • craig Post author

    Where are you Frazer? I hear Joe has some of the Canadian cousins staying. I would like to get them to the show and a drink after.

  • A Armstrong

    I have been coming to the Edinburgh Festival since 1971. I went to see 2 Greek Tragedies last week. One was Medea and the other Oedipus. Both are good plays but the former was an awful production and the latter an outstanding one.
    I assume Libby Purves had not seen Oedipus when she reviewed Medea otherwise she would have had some comparison available to her.
    Her review suggeests that she is trying to be kind to the sisterhood.The only person on stage who had any acting ability was Sarah Berger who played the nurse. The general level was above American High School but only just.
    Nadira has good looks vitality and moves well but histrionics are not enough. All in all the worst thing that I have seen this year.
    PS Loved your book about your time as Ambassador

  • Nextus

    Most reviews praise both Nadira and Sarah Berger very highly, but their acting styles don’t sit well together. Sarah is very polished at the old school RSC brand of theatricality, pushing the message out to the audience by reinforcing every dramatic point with exaggerated sweeps and vocal emphasis. The audience can enjoy her portrayal passively without investing much by way of personal interpretation. On the other hand, Nadira’s portrayal embodies the Eastern European tradition of understated nuance and physical metaphor. She draws people into her performance with graceful gesticulations derived from modern dance. She invites the audience get involved and work out what’s going on.
    Neither style is strictly literal – each is a dramatic delivery. Which you prefer is a personal (and partly cultural) matter. In general, British audiences wants to be told a story, with everything interpreted for them; whereas other cultures want to get involved in the story, to appreciate the ambiguities and dilemmas that pervade real life.
    While it may seem a good idea to incorporate both styles in one performance, thereby playing to both galleries, it’s actually rather jarring for the audience. One actress wants you to sit back and be entertained, the other to lean forward and engage in the drama. You could argue that Sarah is upstaging Nadira by volume and presence, whereas Nadira is upstaging Sarah with nuance and grace. Perhaps the director has chosen not to harmonise their characters, but I think it may just be an oversight.

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