Herald Theatre, 18th June 2016
It a delicious proposal to take an age-old story and tell it from a new perspective. It satisfies that want to deepen our understanding of a world and explain the perspective of characters that have irritated us in their mystery that wasn’t addressed in the original. But I’ll be the first to admit that Greek tragedy is not the genre I love. The oldness of the legends and their extreme outcomes usually suspend my appreciation of the story as a whole – “why not just talk it out rather than gouging out your eyes, Oedipus?”
But this play uses that frustration and cleverly reimagines it from another perspective. Medea, Silo’s newest production fresh from Australia, draws on the source material from Euripides’ play by the same name, and thrusts it into our century.
The production uses foreboding to elicit a sickening feeling in the stomach throughout the show. In its most basic form, [*2400-year-old spoiler warning*] Euripides tells the story of Medea who, seeking revenge against her unfaithful husband, kills pretty much everyone including her two young children who in the original play are barely seen. The murder of her children is collateral damage to ‘adult problems.’
At face value, this is a horrifying story about a twisted mother taunting her children with loving words before she murders them for reasons that no sane person could feel are justifiable. Yet it speaks to the skill of writers Anne-Louise Sarks & Kate Mulvany, and director Rachel House that we see a much more complex and beautiful story of a mother’s anguish in love touching on manic depression clouding her vision. It also focuses more on establishing Medea’s sons as whole characters not just victims, by darkly tinging the ordinariness of two boys waiting in their bedroom.
The themes may have resonated differently for me than they might have for, say, a mother. I saw this with my younger sister and our debrief afterwards consisted of similarities between the boy’s sibling relationship and our own. I didn’t for a second doubt that the two leads were actually brothers. To hold up an entire show is no mean feat for an older actor, yet both Quinn Bevan and Aedan Burmester did it with envious ease.
Bevan as the younger Jasper was by all accounts witty, lovable, and injected that spark of younger brother annoying-ness much needed in the play. He had the audience hanging by his every word much of the time. Aedan had a trickier role, and only two years older than his brother, seemed to channel a strong sense of maturity and internal brooding. Both create immensely believable characters, which makes their fate even more unbearable. Browyn Bradley as the only adult in the show, portrayed a Medea with nothing but love for her children, which made every one of her actions frustrating – though I believe that was the intended effect.
The production design kept Medea from fading into the detachment that could come from the mists of time. With hyper-realism right down to torn socks, working lamps and soft toys shoved into corners, costume designer Kristin Seth, set design John Verryt, lighting designer Phillip Dexter, and composition and sound designer Leon Radojkovic, transport us into the boys’ bedroom – with enough messiness to turn anyone off having kids.
My mind was occasionally drawn from the action by two factors. For one, the children’s extended pauses often felt slightly too long and didn’t make sense in response to the script. It was as if the boys were told ‘sing happy birthday in your head before continuing,’ which ended up feeling less genuine compared to the often frantic and fast nature of children. The other factor was that some of the scripting felt unnecessary and wordy. Some of Medea’s lines referencing unseen characters felt overly pointed when the weight of the message had already been aptly conveyed by her actions. Or Leon’s declaration of how much he loves being an older brother felt a little exaggerated, and had already been shown in the way he cared for Jasper. By trusting the actors and crediting the audience to ‘get it,’ the play could be strengthened even more by tightening its belt a little.
That being said, Medea is masterfully performed. At about 90 minutes, I never had that ¾ of the way through drag or wondering when it might finish. This play is incredibly insular. There are no police or interventions or epilogues of the fall out. We don’t see Medea’s husband Jason or his new lover (‘dad’s new friend’). We’re left to fill those blanks in our own way, by the biased words of the characters or in the way Euripides originally wrote it. What we are left with is a moment in time that we desperately want to stop but are powerless to do so – after all, this myth was already set in stone a very long time ago. To elicit that kind of emotional response is what makes Medea unmissable.
cred: Andi Crown Photography