The first production of Euripides tragedy Medea was staged In 431 BCE and has pretty much been performed unchanged ever since. That is until 2012 when writers Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks decided to look at the play from a completely new angle. If you didn’t get to see the new version when it was originally on then I would really recommend that you pop to the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill where Medea is on once more.
The play takes place in a child’s bedroom where two young boys Jasper (Bobby Smallbridge) and his older brother Leon (Keir Edkins-O’Brien) are playing together. They would prefer to be outside but their mother, Medea (Emma Beattie) has locked their door while she and their father Jason sort out some grown up stuff. The boys play a variety of games and, as brothers often do, find ways to wind each other up, particularly when Jasper finds out Lean has an important article of clothing that had previously belonged to their father. In between games, they discuss what is happening between their parents – the boys know they have fallen out as their father is now living in The Mansion with, as the boys put it, his new ‘best friend. After a while their mother comes in and tells the boys that they will be going to live in the mansion with their father and that they must get ready for when he comes to pick them up.
Whilst I have heard of Euripides I hadn’t, until last night, seen a production of Medea before. I have to say that I was really impressed with the show from the moment I walked through the door leaving behind the cramped foyer of the theatre and entered a really believable children’s bedroom. The set by Designer Mel Page is simply spectacular. Carpet on the floor, twin beds, dinosaur wallpaper and evening a goldfish tank – everything a couple of young inquisitive children could ever want.
Turning to the children themselves, I have to say I was totally blown away by the performances of Bobby and Keir. The majority of this play was just the two of them interacting with each other and, looking at it as an outsider, there was nothing in the performance to suggest that these two weren’t brothers in real life. Their performance and relationship together felt so natural. The entire opening scene where Jasper is trying to get Leon to interact with him really sets out their relationship with each other beautifully and the boys just build on that throughout the show. Having read the notes, I know the dialogue for this version was devised back in 2012 with the original actors playing the roles of Jasper and Leon helping to shape the text, and that really comes through in their very naturalistic way of discussing things like love and relationships where the language flows beautifully.
A superb piece of casting to bring two such highly talented and authentic children together and congratulations to Director Anne-Louise Sarks for getting such a wonderful performance out of her two stars. With all this talk of the children, it would be easy to overlook the pivotal part played by Emma Beattie in her role as Medea. Emma really brings the disturbed woman to life magnificently. Desperate to protect her children, Medea is willing to do anything she can to help them and Emma really allows that desperation to be seen by the audience. The final scene where she is alone with her children doesn’t just tug at the heartstrings, it pulls them up and plays a waltz on them.
As already mentioned, Kate and Anne-Louis put the script together based on working with the original children and there are some wonderful moments where the depth of the characters really shines out. For me, the best example of this was near the end when Leon is explaining to Jasper the job of being a big brother, a truly lovely moment between the two boys that had me sniffing with nostalgia about conversations with my own brothers many years ago.
All in all, this production of Medea was a triumph from start to finish. Never overly schmaltzy or sappy, this was a show where excellent writing, along with superb acting, kept me on the edge for my seat throughout and left me with a wonderful feeling of having witnessed something very special indeed.
Review by Terry Eastham
Gate Theatre presents, in association with Belvoir, Sydney
UK Première of Medea
by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks
Director: Anne-Louise Sarks; Assistant Director: Bella Loudon;
Lighting Designer: Joshua Pharo; Sound Designer: Adrienne Quartly
Two boys are playing a game.
They fight, they laugh, they jump up and down, they play dead.
Downstairs, their parents – Medea and Jason – are arguing. As the shouting gets louder, their bedroom will no longer be able to protect them from the violence of the outside world. Their iconic fate, at the hands of their mother, will ensure that they enter mythology as two of the most tragic siblings of all time.
Medea is presented in association with Belvoir, Sydney and directed by Anne-Louise Sarks whose original production of the play was highly critically acclaimed. The production turns Euripides’ classic tale on its head – presenting the tragedy from the children’s perspective.
Medea was awarded five 2013 Sydney Theatre Awards including Best Direction, Best Mainstage Production and Best New Australian Work. It was also awarded a prestigious Australian Writers Guild Award for Best Stage Play and nominated for four 2013 Helpmann Awards including Best Direction, Best New Australian Work and Best Play.
2nd – 28th November, 2015
As part of the ICONS AND IDOLS Season
11 Pembridge Road
Notting Hill Gate
London W11 3HQ
Approx running time: 75 minutes