Blueprint Medea (Finborough Theatre)

Blueprint Medea (Finborough Theatre, until June 8th)

One of the greatest classical Greek revenge tragedies is given an ultra- modern spin in Blueprint Medea, receiving its world premiere at the Finborough Theatre.

Ever since Euripides wrote about Medea in the 5th Century (using existing Greek myths) the central character of the barbarian princess scorned, rejected by her heroic husband and driven to the cruellest revenge has been a staple of popular culture. Medea has been portrayed in historical and contemporary drama, opera, ballet, film, and even computer games.

It isn’t hard to see why visionary playwright and director Julia Pascal, who has been a leading voice in the role of women in the Arts, felt the story of Medea would resonate so clearly today. Euripides himself was pretty bold in his portrayal of the cunning and intelligent heroine and Pascal has said that she sees the Greek myths as a way of telling women’s stories.

In Blueprint Medea the title character is a Kurdish freedom fighter who manages to evade the Turkish military and makes it to the UK with a forged passport, eventually working illegally as a cleaner in a London gym. It is here that she meets hunky Jason Mohammed (he wears a t-shirt bearing the words “Young God”), who falls in love with her and they have twin sons, but who is forced into an arranged marriage with an Iraqi relative after being convinced by his overbearing father that Medea is from “the wrong tribe.”

The influence of the original epic is obvious, as the story is always recognisable and the five-strong cast occasionally becomes a pseudo-Greek chorus to good effect.

But there is more to this intriguing version than a straight transposition to a modern setting. The inspiration came from Pascal’s interview with a Kurdish refugee and also from the real life story of Asia Ramazan Antar and the Kurdish Women’s Protection Units, which aim to establish female independence as well as fighting for a Kurdish state.

In just 70 minutes, this particular link may feel a bit stretched, or at least that there isn’t enough time to explore the many facets which are brought together. Abiding themes of identity, refugees, patriarchy, love and betrayal add weight but when mixed together so fiercely are in danger of subsuming the all too human drama and in some cases are disappointingly sidelined.

There is much about the culture portrayed which will be unfamiliar to many in the audience, so shorthand explanations or hints in flashbacks aren’t immediately understandable. Maybe that is part of the message of different backgrounds and breeding not coming together comfortably. It is indeed a tragedy when people from the same cultural background are driven apart by different perceptions of similar philosophies.

Oddly, it is by stripping away everything but the bare dramatic story (back to the “blueprint” perhaps) that one is able to uncover the undeniable richness and power of the storytelling and performances, with actors comfortably playing several roles.

Ruth D’Silva is captivating as a passionate Medea. The sorceress and would-be queen of the myths is here a near ruthless terrorist with the ability both to heal and to destroy. Initially unsure of the land in which she is living as an illegal immigrant, D’Silva’s heroine is a feminist for whom the idea of revenge is never far away, chiselled into who she is by her experiences.

The clever twist on her treatment of her lover’s trusting new wife, Glauke (a feisty Shaniaz Hama Ali) is as shocking as it is unexpected and speaks volumes about her refusal to be dominated by men and their duplicity – in love and war.

Max Rinehart is perfect as the careless Jason Mohammed, who thinks the world of himself and considers himself better than he is or ever could be. As a cab driver’s son working in the family business he may have the “knowledge” of geography but is ignorant when it comes to affairs of the heart and even though at home in London is easily seduced by more conservative family values.

Tiran Aakel nearly tears up Kati Hind’s eye-catching set with an intense and savage performance as Jason’s overpowering Iraqi father, with Amada Maud giving a moving performance as the person offering a hand of friendship to the outsider Medea.

The tragic conclusion comes too quickly to convince entirely, yet there is a lasting sense of the intelligent way in which the original story is used in the present day and the extremely strong performances from the cast make it a worthy retelling even if we might have wished for at least half an hour longer.

David Guest

Image, Isabella Ferro 

A version of this review originally appeared on The Reviews Hub