The Unbearable Burden Of Motherhood

Medea at Almeida Theatre ★★★★☆

By Savannah Whaley Last edited 31 months ago
The Unbearable Burden Of Motherhood Medea at Almeida Theatre 4
Kate Fleetwood as Medea. Photo by Marc Brenner.

Rachel Cusk’s Medea is a brutal exploration of the reality of being a woman, and a mother, in the 21st century. Re-situating the ancient story in the modern world, Cusk ensures that the myth remains entirely relevant, foregrounding its focus on the pressures of growing older when, for women, power lies in youth and beauty — a reality that, as the play painfully examines, is no less palpable today.

Kate Fleetwood’s Medea is breathtaking. Struggling with the betrayal of a husband who has left her for a younger, more glamorous woman, she fights with the bitter burden of being left alone with two sons, while her home, and personal identity, is being smashed apart. Fleetwood’s performance is at times terrifying; she is devastated and furious. Her rage and her pain simmer under a rock-hard veneer of venomous self-preservation. Battling to stay above water as a mother, as a writer, and as a woman, the moments when her icy exterior cracks and reveals raw vulnerability are captivating.

Sexist clichés and oppressive judgement engulf Medea; her nurse (Amanda Boxer) and the chorus, a group of women who wittily capture the catty and sardonic character of a contemporary crowd of middle-class mums, reinforce the cage entrapping Medea that the men — her husband Jason (Justin Salinger) and his new lover’s father Creon (Andy de la Tour) so expertly construct around her.

Rupert Goold’s production is consummate, and a fitting end to the illustrious Greek season at the Almeida. The play is gripping, and gruelling, and for the most part feels something like being punched in the stomach — until the somewhat bemusing final minutes. Cusk’s tampering with the plot undermines the force of the original tale: her modernisation of the children’s deaths is a bold and intriguing but ultimately bathetic twist to what should be a fierce and bloody finale.

What the new ending does do, however, is make the tragedy of Medea one of modern-day society. She is not a monster, but a victim, and it is the truthfulness of the circumstances that destroy her that make this production so agonising.

Medea runs at Almeida Theatre, Almeida Street N1 1TA, until 14 November. Tickets £10-£38. Londonist saw this show on a complimentary ticket.

Last Updated 03 October 2015