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First Night: Samuel Beckett

HELL hath no fury like a woman scorned. That might be something of an understatement when applied to the story of Medea, now on stage at the Samuel Beckett Theatre.

True, there's usually no limit to a spurned wife's capacity for revenge, but most don't reach the same dizzy lows as Medea, the title character played by the captivating Eileen Walsh.

A modern-day interpretation of Euripides' Medea, it tells the story of a woman who sacrifices her homeland and family for her husband Jason, with whom she lives in domestic bliss in Corinth. She and Jason (Stuart Graham) have two children (Levi and Isaac O'Sullivan).

Yet, the idyllic family is shattered when Jason falls in love with the daughter of the ruler, King Creon.

This is where we join the action, watching as the nurse (Eleanor Methven) frets over Medea's heartbroken and furious behaviour, fearful of what she might do.

A ludicrously dressed King Creon (Bryan Murray), decked out like a holidaying yachtsman, arrives to inform Medea that she and her children are to be sent into exile, thereby obliterating any potential threat to his daughter's marriage.

His one tragic flaw is that he agrees to Medea's request for one day's grace, musing that no harm can come of it.

At this point, the full spectre of Medea's capacity for vengeance is revealed. Eileen Walsh delivers a chilling performance of a woman maddened by jealousy and betrayal and driven by a misguided belief that her sons can only be saved by dying at her hands.

Before she sets out on her path of destruction she must first listen to the ramblings of her husband.

In Jason's limited view, his marriage to the king's daughter is a sound move that will secure his position and that of his children. Surely his dutiful first wife Medea should understand his thinking and be happy to accept demotion to the role of his mistress.

Stuart Graham's Jason is an almost endearingly sexist character, providing some wry laughter in the midst of a torrid tale.

Yet darkness soon prevails, and Jason's unthinkingly callous behaviour towards his wife is about to be repaid by the most savage acts possible.

It's no mean feat putting a contemporary spin on a 2,500-year-old tale, but this production is helped by some beautifully effective techniques, notably Olwen Fouere's omnipresent chorus providing an eerie commentary to the escalating turmoil and violence.

Paul O'Mahony's set is a work of art, with four well-appointed rooms of a house set across two storeys.

They are divided by a yawning staircase under which Medea carries out her final act of violent revenge.

If anything, the sheer size of the set is a drawback in a compact theatre as the gripping activity in one quarter tends to obliterate the effect of subtle actions in the others. Yet it's a minor gripe about a play that will keep you spellbound to the end. ****