The squish of a sodden soft toy underfoot as we are led carefully into six inches of water in a darkened, flooded studio theatre encapsulates the uncomfortable and unnerving atmosphere of A Lament For Medea. This short (under an hour) performance is stiflingly intimate; the hypnotic slosh of water, the keening songs of the performers, the proximity of everyone else dangling their feet in the pool is a coup by Zecora Ura. The setting is extraordinary and the intense, ritualistic performances throws all who enter into the limbo world of Medea, post-murder, pre-consequences.
Zecora Ura created similar uneasy intimacy in their endurance theatre piece Hotel Medea and A Lament For Medea repeats elements from that exhausting, epic night, mainly Medea's persecution by the King's soldiers and the blank, awful moments after she has killed her children. A Lament For Medea is far more fractured and harder to follow, more a meditation on the character - the witch, the murderer, the woman scorned, the victim of abuse and torment - and less an evening of narrative. The queen slumped in her wheelchair is terrifying, pathetic, mournful and furious, as disjointed as the scenes of this lament for her. Yet it makes sense if you experienced Hotel Medea, like an epilogue or exorcism of Medea from yourself. If you didn't experience Hotel Medea, it is a bold and unsettling interpretation of the Greek tragedy, with a setting quite unlike anything done before.
Why the water? It felt like a novelty, then a distraction, then unnecessary. But in the final minute, it flowed red around our ankles with Medea's body floating either at peace or in stony defeat upon it. And it seemed best to leave her there, suspended in her own mythology, the blood-red water washing about her as we quietly slipped away.
A Lament for Medea at the Arcola Theatre, until 25 July. For more information and to book, go to the Arcola Theatre website.