In 431 BCE Greece Medea was performed for the first time. At the centre a titular character and a force of nature that few would have seen before. In 2023 we have Dominic Cooke’s superb production that sets out to show how little has changed and the struggles that remain when a woman and mother scorned and downtrodden battles to be heard.

Sophie Okonedo, as Medea, is first a distant voice below ground pleading to be heard. As she emerges from her subterranean room, decked her dark shades, she appears pliant and apologetic, but we soon discover that this is only a small part her repertoire. That she is about to seek revenge on the men that want to control her. Her performance is staggeringly unnerving. She ploughs the depths of Medea’s emotions, but in such an immaculately controlled manner, showing only glimpses of the anger and vengeance bubbling under a fragile façade.

Ben Daniels is unusually cast as the four male characters and when not within a scene he circles the action, shedding one skin and coat to morph into the next character. He embodies each with individual mannerisms and stature rather than doing so vocally, except for effete Aegeus who brings the needed lighter tone and moments of humour to a production that rarely lets up on the tension.

Marion Bailey as the Nurse is tasked with bringing us into the ‘world’ of Medea, and then later recall the atrocities at the climax. She does these as wonderful still moments whilst revealing the pent-up frustration, unable to stop Medea from self-destruction.

The choice of having the audience of four sides with the three ‘women of Corinth’ sat anonymously within the audience makes great use of Sohoplace’s flexible and intimate setting. With the 600 seated audience not just observers but implicit in the inevitable downfall.

Vicki Mortimer has created simple but evocative staging that feels like a mini amphitheatre. The black slate surround trapping a warm terracotta lozenge like an island from which no-one can escape, and with Neil Austin’s dramatic lighting and Gareth Fry’s disturbing soundscape, the whole design works and enhances the tension of the story. The effects culminate in a dramatic rain soaking storm that threatens to drown, then wash away the blood and the truth.

This adaptation by American poet Robinson Jeffers of Euripides tragedy was written in the 1940’s. However, this production, with its subtleties and brilliantly underplayed performances, feels as fresh and thrilling as it must have felt in its original.

Photo credit Johan Persson