Theatre review: Fury at Soho Theatre

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Fury at the Soho Theatre

 

Light on plot, but full of passion and – well – fury, Soho Theatre’s modern retelling of Medea throws a cold eye over class and misogyny in today’s London

Sam is a 25-year-old single mum living in a council flat in increasingly gentrified Peckham. Her ex, Rob, hovers on the sidelines of her life, benevolent but busy with his new, pregnant, wife.

Sam’s meets her neighbour, Tom, a student swept in on the wave of gentrification one fateful day when she bangs on his door to ask him to turn his music down. There are barely two years between the two of them, but there’s a lifetime of experience. Sam scrapes by on benefits and a cleaning job she struggles to hold down, Tom is studying for an MA he can barely remember.

The friction that their two dramatically different lives creates sparks a spiral of events that leads to Sams sense of reality fracturing and an increasingly unstable grip on her family and mind.

Fury is a modern re-telling of Medea, and, like Medea, Sam is not cut from the likeable female mould, nor is she one of the saintly poor that writers through the generations have portrayed. She is hugely flawed: she sleeps with her friends boyfriends, hits her children, backchats to employees. But she is in a very modern trap, just about surviving in a city bloated with wealth, she is forced into a life where she has neither money nor choice, where society demands her to be perfect in exchange for what little help and sympathy they allow themselves to give to a single mother who doesn’t seem grateful for the miserable lot life has given her.

Fury is more than a Greek re-boot; Phoebe Eclair-Powell’s script examines class in modern Britain where the poor, stuck on welfare, rub shoulders with the All Sainted-ed shoulders of the middle classes that are increasingly encroaching on Londons traditional working class areas – and homes.

The staging is punchy and Hannah Hauer-King’s director fluid, the chorus circling the stage telling Sam’s story through words and song. The cast are all superb, Sarah Ridgeway as Sam carries her character’s weights with such intensity she looks done in at the curtain call. Alex Austin as Tom straddles the line between creepy and caring so well you never really know what you think of him even when his part in Sam’s downfall is laid out so starkly.

Fury does rather creak under the weight of its own issues that somewhat derails the narrative. Eclair-Powell’s message heavy writing is powerful, but the light plot didn’t quite capture Sam’s life with quite as much authority as the weighty subject matter demanded. But Fury remains a punchy, fiery, necessary and entertaining production with an impressive cast at its heart.

Fury | Soho Theatre | Until Saturday 30 July 

Theatre review: Medea, Almeida

A clever reworking of Euripides’s classic text that is full of rage, but never quite catches fire

Kate Fleetwood as Medea

Kate Fleetwood as Medea

I missed the National Theatre’s powerhouse production of Medea with Helen McCroy in the title role last year when a broken foot curbed my theatre outings temporarily. I am still disappointed I didn’t see it, it sounded everything a Greek tragedy should be, one that punches you in the stomach and leaves you gasping.

The Almeida’s production, as part of their Greek season is, in contrast, rather underpowered. On paper this is theatre gold with author Rachel Cusk on script duties and the Almeida’s artistic director Rupert Goold in the director’s chair, but it’s almost too clever for its own good. All brain and little heart.

Set in modern times, Cusk has, unsurprisingly, re-written Medea as a feminist text and added in a dollop of her brand of suburban nastiness. The chorus is now a group of bitchy yummy mummies, all babyccinos and sniping. They’re good actually, you’ll recognise these characters immediately and even the dancing with baby dolls was witty and tight enough to not to make me – who is very sensitive to theatrical affectation – cringe.

In this reboot, Medea is a successful writer, her husband, Jason (Justin Salinger) a less successful actor. He’s left his wife and moved in with a young, rich model with an indoor swimming pool, leaving Medea with the children. Jason is a weasley spineless twonk – again he’s very recognisable. Medea is obviously a handful, but he is unwilling or unable, to accept his part in the devastation he’s caused. “I fell in love with someone else, that’s all,” he says at one point. Unlike the Euripides’s original, he’s not doing this for the greater good and, at least, doesn’t propose picking up Medea as his mistress once things settle down.

Jason’s downfall is guaranteed the minute Medea makes a pact with the lovely Richard Cant, who plays a Hollywood producer – a modern stand in for the childless King of Athens in the original – struggling to write the book that he has promised to his publishers by the end of the month. Medea says she will write it for him on the condition he gets a script she has written made. The show will go on to be a smash hit and weave the story of Jason’s – and ultimately Medea’s – disgrace. Art imitates life as life starts imitating art.

Gender plays a huge role in this re-write. In Cusk’s (very good) hands it’s a feminist play, although the balance does tip precariously towards gender sniping. There’s a lot of ‘that’s the problem with you women’ and ‘all men have a wandering eye’ etc. Cusk’s absolutely hit the nail on the feminist head with the father of the unnamed mistress who comes to Medea to tell her to back off. His misogyny was horribly recognisable, berating Medea for not being young or beautiful enough and, worse, daring not to care. Not that women come off unscathed – Cusk would never allow that – they are complicit in the trappings of their gender, accepting of their fate as objects of the male gaze, happy, as Medea says, in their “soft bed of compromise”.

Cusk and Goold’s Medea may dig deep into gender politics and attempt to dissect what it is to be a wife and a mother, but ultimately this play is a blood bath. It’s about revenge and one woman’s determination to destroy the man who has betrayed her. Kate Fleetwood as Medea puts in a fine performance, her eyes a blaze with rage for the full 90 minutes, her impressive cheekbones seemingly sharpening with every angry exchange with her ex-husband.

Echoes of the play’s Greekness remain in the costumes that combined jeans with flowing Grecian things. This sartorial mash-up did kind of work, although I disliked the final chorus’s black/white, masculine/feminine costume that seemed curiously half-baked. The production, generally, went a little wayward towards the end, the final 15 minutes rather lost me. We had been transported from the urban modern surroundings we had been in to somewhere else, but I must have missed where – there were mountains. Cusk and Goold duck out of Medea actually killing her children; she does it metaphorically in a scene where the chorus recites the final tragedy. We learn the boys took their own lives (or maybe that’s what everyone is meant to think as in the original? – told you it was confusing). 

Despite the tragic ending, I was rather unmoved – this production may have given me a great deal to think about, but little to care about.

Medea | Almeida Theatre, N1 | Until 14 November 2015