Left – Rory Potter. Photo – Brett Boardman
What is it about Medea that has inspired so many playwrights to create their own versions, from Jean Anouilh to Neil Labute to Wesley Enoch? Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sark's new version of Medea isn't based on the original script but instead focuses on the two objects of Euripides' tragedy: the little boys. In Mulvany & Sark's version, they innocently play while their family is torn apart and their mother takes control of their fate.
The set is a contemporary, toy strewn, messy boys bedroom, designed by Mel Page. The two young boys are locked in their room, waiting for their parents to sort out their relationship.
The boys, played by Rory Potter and Joseph Kelly, are terrific. Potter is the high energy, irrepressible clown and Kelly is his more sensitive, though less quick, older brother. For most of the 75 minutes it is their play: they horse around, fight, play and tease each other. Director Anne-Louise Sarks has devised some lovely comic business and has realised strong, confident performances. The co-writers workshopped the play with the cast and the two boys have stamped their personalities all over their characters which brings a great sense of naturalness to both the script and their performances.
A lot is expected of these young performers and they robustly deliver it. As excellent as they are, and as delightful as the material is, it is a hard ask to expect two young boys to carry most of the play and sustain interest for that long. The writers could afford to tighten the scenes between the boys and achieve the same impact.
Nevertheless, the kids' scenes are charming and are overlaid with a strong sense of dramatic irony based on the audience knowing so much more than they do. We know, for instance, that their mum and dad won't sort out their differences and we know why Medea is giving "dad's friend" a beautiful gift.
In contrast, the scenes with their mother are harrowing. The see-sawing between the banality of the playroom and conflict that is occurring off stage is an inspired theatrical device. Blazey Best's performance is red hot as Medea. Medea in the Euripides version kills her boys in a sadistic rage, driven by her hatred of her husband. This version gives Medea a more contemporary, nuanced reading. Ms Best embodies an anxiety that is terrifying. We are filled with a sense of dread at how overwhelmingly vulnerable, powerless, hurt and fragile she is and what that will bring.
This Medea has been sent mad by having her life ripped away from her and having no power to do anything about it. Medea might still be motivated by revenge, anger or spite; but she certainly isn't a barbarian as depicted by Euripides. In this version, Medea is less driven by rage and more by some irrational sense of love.
Medea is often considered one of the most reviled characters in the theatrical canon. The notion that a mother could kill her children in an act of revenge is utterly despicable and incomprehensible. It challenges the idea of the protective maternal instinct. And yet it happens. There are numerous contemporary examples of women who have committed infanticide. By re-examining and reinterpreting Medea in a modern context, Mulvany and Sarks' play attempts to put a human face to this monstrous act. The result is a strong dose of pathos - lightened by humour - but with no catharsis to let the audience off the hook at the end.
Belvoir in association with ATYP presents
by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks after Euripides
Original concept & director Anne-Louise Sarks
Venue: Belvoir St Theatre | 25 Belvoir St, Surry Hills
Dates: 11 October – 25 November 2012
Tickets: Full $42 | Seniors (excluding Fri/Sat evenings) $36 | Concession $32
Bookings: 02 9699 3444 | www.belvoir.com.au