Sam is a 25-year-old single mother of two living on a council estate. In the flat above her lives country-bumpkin Tom, a master’s student who found his flat-share on Zoopla.
Sam is bold and playful at first, pushing her way into the flat, and life, of the introverted Tom. The two bond over their mutual loneliness but when Tom makes a move and Sam rejects him the relationship quickly turns dark and Tom’s naivety gives way to a disturbing cruelty.
This is a very modern adaptation of Euripides’ Medea, written by Phoebe Eclair-Powell and directed by Hannah Hauer-King. It’s that rare kind of production that touches on many issues – both millennia old and uniquely of our day – with a plot that grips throughout.
Sam is a “Londoner in the truest sense of the word” we’re told by the chorus, two women and a man who bring a stylised element to the otherwise gritty realism. They sing and speak poetically, supplying information on Sam’s backstory and commentary on her emotions.
Choruses are hard to pull off in modern versions of classical plays, they often appear stilted and unnatural, but these three add enormously to the production. They play the role of society, sometimes sticking up for Sam but more often criticising and often arguing with each other over which is right. At the opening they say they’re going to tear her apart and that is what they do; judge her throughout for being a single mother, for being unemployed, for being working class.
Sarah Ridgeway is an enthralling lead, giving a powerful portrayal of the impact of abuse, of how, like poison, it takes over slowly and changes a person’s personality. In one scene she sits on the sofa as the chorus narrate Tom’s actions without him on stage and her posture and facial expression tell us everything.
It’s Tom’s actions that lead the plot and Alex Austin is a wholly believable tormenter. He could be someone you know; he could be a psychopath. “Tom has taken the reigns of Sam’s soul”, the chorus say, and it appears that he has.
We never see Sam’s two sons, suggesting she doesn’t spend much time with them. For this is a play about parental love and the sticky issue of parents who don’t love their children as much as we, society, say they should.
The claustrophobic set adds to the sense of Sam being both trapped and judged. The audience surrounds the entire stage and lights on the low ceiling signal Tom’s overbearing presence in his flat above Sam’s.
Eclair-Powell’s writing is exceptionally strong, and she is certainly a talent to look out for. She artfully casts the audience into the roles we often play in life – judge and jury – and Fury is gripping production that will leave you shaken, and perhaps a little ashamed.