Medea: The Almeida Theatre

Medea is the third and final play in The Almeida’s acclaimed Greeks series and, although both other plays in the series were also excellent, it is probably the most memorable.

As the production opens, lights come up on what resembles a chic minimalist modern home, the type common in The Almeida’s Islington neighbourhood. An upper mezzanine floor divides the stage horizontally.

Standing at a collapsing kitchen sink and counter cruelly cleaved in two, Amanda Boxer’s nagging Nurse, proper almost to the point of stereotype, talks harshly, her voice grating as she bemoans Medea’s current situation. Andy de la Tour’s Tutor chimes in occasionally with his crudely male perspective while Kate Fleetwood’s Medea stands centre stage between.

This literally and figuratively sets the scene for the next 90 minutes because at it’s heart this is a play about duality: male and female; mother and father; woman and wife; love and hate; forgiveness and vengeance. The cut collapsing kitchen the perfect metaphor for Medea’s broken home.

Director Rupert Goold’s brilliant modern dress production makes full use of Ian MacNeil’s clever stark set where everything appears too perfect. Only both Neil Austin’s evocative lighting and Adam Cork’s sombre sound indicate scene shifts. All combine to leave the audience feeling something is very wrong almost immediately.

Although the entire cast is superb, Fleetwood’s Medea is a revelation. Torn in two by her love for her sons and the knowledge of how her behaviour hurts them, you can see Medea’s internal struggle.

Obsessed by husband Jason, a swaggering selfish Justin Salinger, and his love for another younger woman, she wrongly believes she can still win him back. Medea is a powerful intelligent woman. Using every resource available: reason, anger, threats, deceit, sex and even the children themselves, she cannot accept the only person she really controls is herself.

Jason and Medea fight dirty and as their slanging matches become more personal, she becomes increasingly desperate. Blind with rage she refuses to heed Michele Austin’s Cleaner’s harrowing stories as the warnings they are, seeing them instead as ideas for new weapons to use against her husband.

Her fury builds as Creon, Jason’s lover’s father and the Chorus of women she is ostracised from criticise her behaviour. Goading her on to the unthinkable, she spits venom at the audience before the play moves towards its inevitable heart-breaking climax.

This is an exhausting but unmissable night of brilliant theatre.

High Society: The Old Vic

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Some complain theatre, especially musical theatre, should not be performed in the round as it spoils the spectacle and so the show. These naysayers should see The Old Vic’s High Society.

Actors appear to blend with ushers, mingling with an unaware audience arriving to cross a stage, empty except for a piano, to take their seats. No lights lower when internationally renowned jazz pianist Joe Stilgoe (or is he Joey Powell?) seats himself, asking the audience for requests.

This could fail spectacularly, instead Powell’s/Stilgoe’s musical dexterity has everyone singing along to Night and Day. He and the cast segue seamlessly into Maria Friedman’s tightly directed show as houselights dim.

The chorus is superb: girls glide, boys bop and in a heartbeat we’re transported to Fifties East Coast America. The intimate production means actors are so close you can smell their cologne and perfume; the show’s slick set changes seamless.

Although you know Dexter (the brilliant Rupert Young) is trouble the minute you see him you forgive his foibles. True, it’s clearly corny but it’s completely captivating. Familiar songs feel fresh and fantastic – you can’t help singing along silently.

This is a musical about deception but the biggest con is on the audience who sit enraptured as both cast and crew charm with their creativity. Staging is sublime – it really is amazing the amount achieved in so small a space. A swimming pool appears on stage courtesy of Peter Mumford’s imaginative lighting.

Kate Fleetwood transfigures the audience, taking them thrillingly through Tracey Lord’s transformation from spoiled society snob to lovely lady.

Barbara Flynn’s performance as Mother Lord is pure Debbie Reynolds with Jeff Sprawle’s surprisingly spry Uncle Willy a wonderful comic foil.

George is played to perma-tanned perfection by Richard Grieve. His smarmy demeanour means you route for love-rival Dexter soon after George first enters.

Hailing from the wrong part of town, reporters Mike (Jamie Parker) and Liz (Annabel Scholey) are all brassy business, in their quest for a tabloid scoop.

Anyone who’s ever been in love and believes in second chances will fall head over heels for this, the perfect curtain call for Kevin Spacey’s stellar run as The Old Vic’s Artistic Director. A magnum of champagne should be raised in his honour.