Clever programming paired two Greek tragedies for a double bill of bold new versions of Medea and Electra. Fold Up Theatre presented Cradle and Fall, a very modern Medea, involving confrontation TV talk shows, publicists and spin doctors bringing this wrenching tale of a woman scorned right up to the minute. Though coincidental that Sienna Miller and Balthazar Getty were sprawling across tabloids at the same time, it intensified this tale of the woman betrayed by her husband, father of her children and the revenge she eventually seeks.
It was easy to follow the story to its grisly conclusion due to the non-verse script, lack of traditional chorus and modern dress; rather like a quality TV drama. The cast were believable, very watchable with genuine bitter chemistry between Arinder Sadhra as Malina / Medea and Laurence Ward as Jason, both furious post-break up but still united by their son and a married life neither were finding easy to forget. The young royal Gabriella, played by Sarah Jones handily recalled Sienna Miller with her blonde hair and knowing celebrity insouciance.
Two roles created for this version crowned the updating process as a success: Mike McDonough as publicist Max Schell and Steve Riseborough as influential talkshow host Lucian van Horne were brilliant innovations and characters. They goaded and pleaded the others into televised confrontations, newspaper exclusives and pretended to be supportive while exposing themselves as salivating media hounds with little moral conscience. We can see this one doing well as a standalone production elsewhere on the fringe - or on TV, where it would fit in quite naturally.
Lazarus Theatre achieved a slightly less up-to-the-minute adaptation of Electra despite relocating this revenge story of a brother and sister seeking justice against their murdeous mother to present day Zimbabwe. Nonetheless, they presented a deeply affecting and highly impressive performance, in verse and movement. A few hearts may have sank confronted with an hour of traditional Greek tragedy and 'physical theatre' set in Africa but those sinking hearts were uplifted by the ferocity, passion and impeccable precision of the cast in this sharp and majestic production.
Louise Coleman as Elektra was the lone female figure among a group of muscular, fiercesome men, snarling to her newly returned brother Orestes her plan to kill their mother. And the entrance of the hateful mother, played with chilling regal disdain by Luis Valentine draped in the Zimbabwean flag and traditional headdress was nothing short of amazing to watch. The cross-gender casting somehow made the mother figure so much worse. Violence, when it came, was stylised, choreographed and deeply menacing; long sections of dialogue in verse were almost natural and clearly workshopped, rehearsed and performed with 100 per cent concentration. This plucky group of performers managed to nail two very tricky bits of theatrical form, three if you count the updating process, and did it all with utterly entrancing power.
If this had toured to our school when we were younger, we would have gone on to Oedipus, the Bacchae and Agamemnon with far more interest. An astonishing achievement and hopefully there's more to come.