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The Full Story


When Jane Gwilliams left RADA in 1987, she would have struggled to play Franca Rame's 'Medea'. Like her fellow actor at drama school Sophie Okenedo, currently playing Euripides Greek 'Medea' in the new London theatre @sohoplace, she shares her view that "she couldn't have played Medea younger than this".

Jane Gwilliams, RADA 1987

Jane Gwilliams in 1987 at RADA, the year she began acting professionally.

The first thing to know about the play itself was that it was seen as so heinous and heretical that women were not allowed to watch it. The play 'Medea' existed only as a cautionary tale for men.
Says Jane: "In Rame’s Medea [as opposed to the Greek myth in Euripides’ Medea] I get the sense that Medea herself is making this terrible sacrifice of killing her children into order to give birth to a new woman. After all, we don’t drop down dead at 50, we have a lot more life, so the infanticide is not about the psychological whys and wherefores, it is used metaphorically to show how women are kept in the box because that is how society has organised things. As a woman, you are shackled to your children and tied down by the bonds to them, while a man isn’t. What if you have that scenario, where a woman, a mother, steps freely into a new life unshackled by children. The knife Medea wields represents the implement to cut the bonds. So it’s like a transformation.

Euripides 'Medea'

Franca Rame's 'Medea'

“In Medea, Rame explores a part of being a mature woman. Here, we have a woman looking back as a mother and asking ‘have I done well enough?’ This time she is looking back on her relationship with her husband and asking ‘Is it totally based on my sexual power? Is that all we have as women?’ Although early on in a relationship can be an exciting time in a woman’s life but what happens when sexual interest goes off the boil? Are women not taken seriously anymore? These are the complicated questions Franca Rame is grappling with.”


“I think Rame tackles many things in Medea, including the menopause, which is portrayed as a very negative time in western culture. There is very little talked about the potential of the older woman, it is as if our potency is in the past. Women have so many strings to their bow, but we become invisible as we age. It is something I recognise among my younger colleagues when teaching drama, because female power is geared towards sexual potency, nobody wants to look beyond that, because they have a fear of facing it themselves. Rame’s not afraid to talk about this, however, and how there is very little that seems positive to step into. Rame herself is a role model, and suggests that if there are role models, you have to grab them and keep renewing yourself.

“I was speaking to an artist, and he describes his paintings as being like his children. Sometimes he has to destroy them in order to be a better artist. Destroying them is like creating something new, to rise like a Phoenix from the ashes.”


“I feel this is something that is very much happening in the menopause, and that’s the part we don’t talk about. Society seems to view it as life ending. Whereas in other cultures, it is seen as a very important time for women, where they have much better sex, for example. I think Rame’s 'Medea' was about killing the old conversation to have a new conversation about this time in a woman’s life, about trying new things and embracing new ideas.

Jane Gwilliams today, actor, drama teacher and mother

of five children.

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