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Every three years since 1870 Oxford University Classical Drama Society have performed a Greek play

Oxford University Classical Drama Society: Medea at the Oxford Playhouse from Wednesday, November 8, to Friday, November 10

Review by JON LEWIS


EVERY three years since 1870, the Oxford University Classical Drama Society have performed a Greek play, an event as authentic to student culture as May Morning Madrigals.

This year the students chose Euripides’ tragedy Medea, translated by Neel Gokal who also co-directs with Halah Irvine. Most of the dialogue is in English but the Greek verse is translated, a bit clumsily, on screens in front of the stage.

Medea (Siena Jackson Wolfe), originally from Colchis in modern-day Georgia, a land where she helped Jason (Jelani Munroe) steal the Golden Fleece, is a ‘barbarian’ living in Corinth.

After 10 years of marriage with Jason, he’s now leaving her to marry the (unseen by the audience) daughter of the ruler Cleon (Fitzroy ‘Pablo’ Wickham).

Wearing a low-cut T-shirt and combat trousers, Medea, in conversation with the seven-strong all-female chorus who line the balcony of the temple-like set (designer, Elspeth Rogers), outlines an audacious plan to get even with Jason.

Invoking the witch Hecate whom she worships, Medea uses her supernatural skills to devise a poison with which she coats a dress and a jewel, gifts her two sons deliver to Jason’s new wife as a wedding present.

Usually, the murders are reported on by minor characters, the gruesome killings left to the imagination. Here, the off-stage scenes are depicted behind screens in all their lurid horror.

Creon is also poisoned trying to save his daughter. Medea, now wearing a glamorous white dress, moves on to stage two of her revenge plot – killing her two boys (Phoebe Winter and Jemima Freeman) with a large sword. At one point, Hamlet-like, she debates whether she can murder her own offspring. The chorus begs her not to do it. Medea retorts using a contemporary expletive that brings a touch of humour to the narrative.

Student drama like this often feels more opulent than professional stagings because the team can call on so many talents. There’s a live orchestra (musical director Daniel Savage) playing an excellent choppy score that complements the momentum towards the palace terrors.

A packed auditorium of students cheered the show to the rafters.

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