Medea at The Citizen's Theatre
Article originally written and published for STV stv.tv
"If there's any justice, I want them - both of them - in a car crash." - Medea, Mike Bartlett
At first, Medea could be any abandoned mother. Betrayed by her husband with another woman and separated from society, her bitterness and hatred towards her partner could be excused.
But it is Medea's fury and desperation to seek morbid revenge that distinguish her from any other scorned woman. She will go to great lengths to spite the lover who shunned her, even if it means having her own children's blood on her hands.
Euripides' tragic tale of love, rejection and vengeance has had many incarnations since it was first written in 431 BC, from Gavin Bryars' opera to Liz Lochead's Scots version of the text.
Now updated by critically-acclaimed writer Mike Bartlett, the Greek tragedy's most recent interpretation is due to have its world premiere at the Citizen's Theatre before embarking on a UK tour.
Tackling the role of the play's volatile heroine is twice-Olivier-award-nominee Rachael Stirling, who faces one of the most complex characters of her career.
"It feels like I've landed the part of a lifetime. My only fear is that it is all downhill from here," laughed Rachael.
"Medea is articulate, extraordinary, courageous, funny and tragic. She is the bravest character I have ever played.
"This role is so much more complicated, diverse, contradictory and fascinating than my other roles.
"Sometimes when you play a part you come to the end of the run and feel like you have squeezed every ounce of joy out of the part. You could play Medea for years and still not get there."
Rachael admits that harnessing Medea's passion, fury and resentment is not without its challenges. Making the audience connect with such a dominant, hostile female character is one of any actress' main difficulties in portraying Medea adeptly, and has historically been a challenge for the writers and directors who must guide the character on stage.
The inversion of traditional gender roles within the story and the protagonist's threatening, traditionally 'masculine' behaviour can deter audiences from empathising with Medea, and her sinister plotting do little to endear her to the viewer.
"I want Medea to be easily accessible to audiences. I don't want to scare audiences off," said Rachael.
"She's bombastic and funny but also aggressive.
"It's important that she remains likeable so that the audience sympathise and go with her on her journey through to the end of the play."
Sympathising with Medea's tumultuous journey, from rejection to grief to contemplations of infanticide, is no easy task. In Bartlett's modern-day version of Medea, the protagonist finds herself trapped in her marital home suffering from insomnia and unable to work.
The play explores the same themes of revenge, infidelity and rage present within the original text, set within a modern environment in which the Greek murderess is reincarnated as a struggling 21st century female.
"The play's so funny and engaging, but above all - this 90 minute play takes Greek tragedy and makes it relevant to today," said Rachael.
"You read in the papers everyday about stories of women who have been pushed to the edge.
"It's the most modern, vibrant and exciting piece of new writing that I have read in a long time."
Mike Bartlett's Medea is a collaboration between the Citizens Theatre and Watford Palace Theatre, created in association with Warwick Arts Centre.
The play runs from September 27 to October 13. Tickets are £12 - £19, with £8 preview tickets. To book online, click here