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Review Round-Ups

Helen McCory masters Medea at the National

The show opened at the Olivier in the National Theatre to a warm reception

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Helen McCrory as Medea
© Richard Hubert Smith

Michael Coveney


... Michaela Coel's numbly distraught nurse... Helen McCrory's harrowing, unflinching Medea is so disturbing a performance... Tom Scutt's brilliant split level design... aghast and sympathetic, the all-women chorus emerge like a Pina Bausch dance troupe of twitching, expressive dryads... McCrory steps frighteningly to her destiny, jaw set, head held high, her voice an octave lower than you expect... Jason, a bullish, convincingly adventurous Danny Sapani... Martin Turner's cowardly Creon... Dominic Rowan's ouzo-swigging Aegeus... Cracknell and Power outline the cultural and psychological parameters... convincingly... thanks to McCrory, the nearest we come to a contemporary Judi Dench, one of the greatest and most enduring of all the tragedies.

Charles Spencer
Daily Telegraph


... Ben Power's translation has a stark eloquence... Helen McCrory, gives the performance of her career as Medea... She paces the stage like a caged and goaded animal... Tom Scutt's fine split-level design... McCrory commands the Olivier's huge stage. She is superbly duplicitous... The chorus is excellent, performing juddering, jittery dances as the tension mounts... robust support from Danny Sapani as Jason... strong work from Martin Turner as Creon... Dominic Rowan as the poignantly childless King of Athens... Michaela Coel as the Nurse powerfully voices the audience's feelings of apprehension and dread... music by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp remorselessly ratchets up the tension... At the end of this thrilling and merciless production you leave the theatre feeling both appalled and strangely elated.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard


... Helen McCrory is on exceptional form as Medea... McCrory powerfully conveys Medea's bitter destructiveness, while also suggesting vulnerability... Carrie Cracknell's production is pacy and direct... mix of ancient and modern... There's the same quality of wispy elegance in some of the music, by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp... as the plot darkens, the score pulses with malevolent intent and builds to snarling intensity... successfully meshes with Lucy Guerin's choreography... Ben Power's text has moments of bracing clarity... Dominic Rowan is under-used as the Athenian king Aegeus... his scene with Medea is blandly written... McCrory's performance makes the production satisfyingly muscular. She captures Medea's animal savagery and the agony of being transfixed by her own grim destiny.

Paul Taylor


Carrie Cracknell plugs the gap now with this horribly gripping, scrupulously judicious modern-dress production… Helen McCrory gives a performance of scorching emotional power and searching psychological acuity… It's performed to the pulsing, out-kilter uncanniness of the score by Will Gregory and Alison Goldfrapp that gets right under your skin as it eloquently intensifies the atmosphere of the foreboding… The heroine's formidability and vulnerability are brilliantly entwined in McCrory's performance… I don't think I have seen a Medea where the hollowness of the protagonist's triumph has been communicated with such harrowing bleakness. I won't disclose too much about the ending but let's just say that it invokes the deus ex machina tradition only to deny it and it gives graphic weight to the notion of shouldering blame. Unforgettable.

Michael Billington


Danny Sapani... is less an obvious ogre than a politician... The production's moral ambivalence extends to Aegeus... played by Dominic Rowan, he is both a benign altruist and a cautious diplomat... the production has one or two oddities... Tom Scutt's split-level set... seems too palpably symbolic of the play's division... the Chorus, as choreographed by Lucy Guerin, move strangely from being straitlaced women in print frocks to quivering members of a seemingly avant-garde dance troupe... the play's tragic force emerges strongly and the production's climax seems better suited to modern tastes than Euripides's original... Medea... making an exit that is profoundly pitiable and perfectly in tune with the insane contradictions of her character.