Fury is a modern reworking of Euripides’ classical Medea, a play which has become increasingly popular for contemporary, often feminist interpretations. Rachel Cusk’s adaptation played at The Almeida last September; Pecho Mama’s Medea Electronica opens next week at The Pleasance – Islington; International Theatre Amsterdam’s Medea runs 6-9 March at The Barbican. It seems a fitting play for our times, too, examining single mothers, irresponsible absent fathers and providing an exhausting, tour de force role for the lead. What more could you ask for?
Phoebe Éclair-Powell’s adaptation relocates from Corinth to Peckham, Medea has become Samantha, and Jason has become Rob. Where Euripides’ plot follows a scheming wife, revenging on her unfaithful husband, Lydia Fleming’s Samantha is a young mother of two, pressed on one side by a manipulative-abusive student and the local council on the other. She’s a victim of a system which leaves the vulnerable behind, but there’s nothing vulnerable about Fleming’s performance.
Charlie Cridlan’s set design is confidently basic. A large metal construction dominates an otherwise empty stage. One might read this as a clever evocation of the simple architecture of council estates and also a suggestion of the cage in which Samantha finds herself increasingly trapped; the cast use the structure resourcefully, suggesting a variety of locations. One might also recognise that stripped backstages are ‘trendy’ and ‘not designing a set’ is a lot easier than actually having to think about what to put on a stage.
The plot is told in part by storytelling, and part via acting. Brandon Ashford, Isabella Brownson and Kristina Tonteri-Young circle Samantha, speaking on her behalf, giving a suggestion that her narrative is beyond her control. Equally, this might be an effort to spread the parts out, and actually, the narrated sections are real slack points in the show. Brownson in particular, perhaps attempting to give her role character beyond that of a mere storyteller, is actually quite annoying. Rather than evoke the pressures exerted on single mothers, she is just quite unpleasant and distracting.
Fleming, however, is the clear strength of the whole show. She carefully manages a slide from barely balancing children, work and life, to unbalanced and barely sane. She is physically, verbally manipulated and eventually sexually abused by Tom, played by Joseph Potter, an MA student living in the flat above. Potter doesn’t quite manage the smooth transition from creepy, immature to violent rapist, but he is undeniably slimy and convincingly needy. But, and this is perhaps the nature of the play, everything feels like window dressing around Fleming. Her vocal delivery is controlled but diverse, her physical interactions with other characters individual and unique. Whether at work, looking after her kids, begging Tom for money, or desperately trying to maintain a sense of stability in her crumbling world, she finds an extremely impressive coherence of identity. For a not yet graduated drama student, Fleming has extremely mature delivery and control of a stage.
Given the distractions created by a weak set, and the frustrating style of delivery from the narrators, one wonders what could have been if all this had been fine-tuned, and more attention had been given to Fleming and her own story.
Review by Thomas Froy
In a council flat in Peckham, young single mum Sam fights to survive, in this powerful modern Medea about motherhood and class.
Samantha – Lydia Fleming
Tom – Joseph Potter
Man – Brandon Ashford
Woman – Isabella Brownson
Fury – Kristina Tonteri-Young
Nicole Charles director
Rafaella Marcus associate director
Charlie Cridlan designer
Tom Mackey lighting designer*
Eleanor Coxall sound designer*
*Student on BA (Hons) Technical Theatre Arts programme
1—12 Feb 2019, Milton Court Theatre