Theatre review: Blueprint Medea

Julia Pascal has written a modern-day version of Medea


Just because, in Euripides’s Greek tragedy, Medea murdered her children, doesn’t mean we should be entirely unsympathetic to her. If you come away from a modern production of the work thinking she has no case against the father of her children Jason, and with no understanding about why she murders their children, then something has gone wrong.

And so it is that in Julia Pascal’s inventive new version set in modern-day London, Medea, commandingly played here by Ruth D’Silva, is driven to distraction and to committing the most unimaginable of crimes.

She is a freedom fighter from Kurdistan, and a member of the Peshmerga fighting force. She arrives in Britain seeking refugee status on a false passport and is given shelter by a sympathetic immigration officer. She cleans at a cafe to make a living and it is here she meets her Jason (Max Rinehart) — a young, London-born Muslim. It is during this whirlwind romance that Jason’s Iraqi, first generation migrant father, reins in his son’s transgressive behaviour. He can keep the twins, says his dad, as long as he leaves their non-Muslim mother.

Pascal is perhaps best known as the creator of the Holocaust Trilogy and also has the distinction of being the first woman director at the National Theatre. Her work often involves reviving and re-politicising classic works, and this one is no exception with a Medea that is partly inspired by the late Kurdish fighter Asia Ramazan Antar who died fighting both Islamic State and the patriarchal misogyny that remains endemic in the region. Chauvinism elsewhere crassly dubbed her Kurdish Angelina Jolie after her picture went viral.

Pascal’s own part in that struggle runs through her play, which she also sure-footedly directs. But there other political points being made here too. The pull that conservative religion has on even the youngest generation is vividly conveyed as liberal Jason reverts back to his “tribal” identity — and also to his name Mohammed. And when his marriage is arranged to a dutiful young woman from his own community his betrayal of Medea is complete.

If I have a gripe it’s that it’s not entirely clear how Medea befriends the woman who replaces her. And how Medea is helped to get through immigration is also glossed too quickly. Yet in just 70 uninterrupted minutes the ancient and modern worlds collide and generate the sobering thought that little has changed between one and the other.

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