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Medea review at Bristol Old Vic – ‘an inventive all-female reworking’

The cast of Medea at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Jack Offord The cast of Medea at Bristol Old Vic. Photo: Jack Offord

Mythologised as the ultimate in vengeful women, Euripides’ Medea is an extra-large character. Chino Odimba’s new modernised version humanises this ancient tale.

Maddy (Akiya Henry) is an army wife abandoned for a younger woman. In her woe she discovers a copy of Robin Robertson’s translation of the Greek text, and takes solace and inspiration from the tragedy.

Director George Mann’s production is steeped in song. More lines are sung than spoken, with the result sitting somewhere between a rock musical and chamber opera. The five-member chorus create everything from incessant rainfall to Maddy’s pent-up rage using only finger clicks, stomping feet and drumming on their own bodies. It’s a phenomenal feat of endurance.

As Medea/Maddy, Henry is an elemental force. Her presence is especially felt in the moments of direct address to the audience. At times she is statuesque and regal, at others startlingly vulnerable. Stephanie Levi-John’s performance as Jason/Jack is one of swaggering machismo. Her exaggerated chin-in-the-air posture suits the role perfectly.

Shizuka Hariu’s white set neatly combines references to ancient Greek architecture with glossy modernism. A huge jagged staircase rising to the heavens becomes the Mount Olympus from which Medea howls down at Jason .

Odimba’s re-writing of the Medea story is primarily about reclaiming a maligned female character. Yet it’s also about showing why people like Maddy remain fascinated with the characters of ancient drama. And with bold, imaginative stagings like this, it’s easy to see why.

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An inventive reworking of Euripides featuring superb performances from an all-female cast