This is a terrific play.
Belvoir, in association with Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) have crafted a top notch play, utilising the writing talents of Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, who have reinterpreted Euripides’ classic to suit the intimate downstairs theatre and its young and small cast.
This is reimagining a play at its best. If you’re going to rewrite a play, can you give it more life, a different perspective, a new understanding of the issues and characters, a new world in which the events unfold and still maintain the integrity of the original story, its purpose, its characters? Mulvany and Sarks overwhelmingly tick every box with a resounding yes and Sarks, as director as well as co-writer, has beautifully captured the play and its real victims on stage in this Belvoir and ATYP co-production.
I am full of praise for ‘Medea’. The first, as evidenced above, is in the writing. It is the story of a marriage lost, an outcast to ambition and betrayal. Replaced by a younger, more powerful and connected version of herself, Medea is banished from the kingdom to return to her homeland, where all ties have been severed. Her husband Jason has demanded full custody of the children. Thus we see Medea’s plight. Abandoned, the futility of her future commands her to make extreme emotional decisions and the most obvious tool in which to exact revenge is her children. Consumed by grief and anger, she does the unthinkable.
Euripides and subsequent translations spend most of the play focussed on Medea, her relationship with Jason, King Creon and the chorus, who report to us the off stage action and question the characters in their responses and intentions. What Mulvany and Sarks do instead is bravely focus their version on the children and most of the 80 minutes of text is delivered by the children. Sons Leon (Joseph Kelly) and Jasper (Rory Potter) play in their bedroom, whilst they are locked out of the parents’ fight, happening offstage as implied. The boys’ games centre on typical adventures of the imagination, innocence, grand death scenes, gladiatorial conquests and sibling rivalry as well as love. There is a roguish naïve charm in their antics and it resonates throughout the play as they contemplate their future, their present and as play turns into reality. They give us the backstory as needed and from their perspective. They love their parents. They are desperate to please and be loved and they are still children, excited by the possibilities but starting to understand the consequences of decisions made by the ‘grown-ups’. They are the pawns in an adult world. The world of the children is brilliantly bookended and their humanity and fragility is played out before us.
The young actors, Joseph Kelly and Rory Potter, were superb. Not for one moment did we doubt their relationship, their care for each other or that they were children at play in a high-stakes world. And these boys had to carry this play (it also explains the early start time of the show and its limited run- it’s a big ask of such a young cast). Impeccable focus and belief- what a great casting choice. Blazey Best as Medea appeared only rarely to deliver news, raise the stakes and shift the focus to advance the story until the unhappy ending itself. But when she did enter the space, she delivered a performance of a woman whose world has been ripped apart, who has to gently hold those moments of utter despair as a woman who must also keep a happy face for her kids so as not to distress or terrify them. It was a quality performance.
Sarks as director must be credited for her work with her young charges. She has created a safe and real environment for her cast to act out the breakdown of the family unit under the spotlight of the boys’ bedroom. This was aided by a fabulous design from Mel Page, who gives the boys a realistic and vivid canvas to play, hide, challenge, rest and wait. All we need to know about the world of the play is in that room. I saw the play with two of my students and one of them even remarked that it was very much like her little brother’s room (complete with the nerf bullets that she often fell victim to). We believed every moment.
There are so many layers and echoes of every parent’s nightmare and imminent tragedy interwoven into this play. It is a sophisticated production and you really must see it. Snap up a ticket. Beg, borrow or steal but don’t miss this one.