Medea (Queensland Theatre) – theatre review

Discard any preconceived notions of an ancient Greek play by Euripides about a woman who kills her children. Adaptations of Medea usually have the titular character front and centre, but this unique take on the story by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks has her two sons as the focal point. In fact, the two young boys, played with astonishing finesse by Orlando Dunn-Mura (Leon) and Felix Pearn (Jasper) on Opening Night, never leave the stage. (Their parts are alternated with other actors, Edward Hill and Jeremiah Rees on different nights.)

Photos: David Kelly

The stage setting has to be mentioned. It’s the first thing you notice as you sit in the Bille Brown Theatre – a large rectangle representing the boys’ modern-day bedrooms but encased in clear glass. It’s like you’re looking at them in a fish tank, and it’s a nice touch that they have their own fish tank in the corner of the room with their pet fish, Cornelius, in it.

The impression is that the boys are trapped in their room, with the barrier between audience and performers also helping to give us some emotional distance – something which could be seen as a blessing seeing as we already know that these two sweet, normal boys will be murdered by their mother by the end of the play. Kudos goes to Chloe Greaves, the set and costume designer, and to lighting designer, Matt Scott, who turns the bedroom into a magical star-filled night sky when the lights go out. Mike Willmett’s sound design adds to the atmosphere and helps build tension.

Leon and Jasper seem like any other brothers as they play and fight in their bedroom. The walls and shelves are covered with pop culture references such as a Yoda figure from Star Wars, and a Brisbane Lions football poster on the wall. The boys talk about the fact that their dad – Jason from the Jason and the Argonauts adventure – has left their mother, Medea, to live with his ‘special friend’ in a mansion. They debate whether this friend is nicer than their mother and if they’d like to live there with them.

Suddenly, their lighthearted banter stops as they hear an argument somewhere else in the house through their closed door. They become agitated and start yelling themselves, with Jasper violently hitting a stuffed toy with a cricket bat. It reminds us that this is going to end in tragedy and that the seeds are being sown.

Medea appears only a few times but in the devastating final scenes, Helen Cassidy makes a huge impression. She helps the boys undress and gets them to don suits so they look nice for their father who is coming over. That’s after she’s done something that she knows will get her into big trouble. She tells her boys how much she loves them after getting them to drink some special cordial. This leads into some uncomfortable, devastating theatre, especially considering how often we see stories on the news about parents killing their children, often because of a custody battle. Of course, it’s mostly men who do this, which is what makes Medea an even more puzzling character. How could a mother do such a thing just for revenge?

Daniel Evans (Vietgone, The Almighty Sometimes) has directed the play with assured sensitivity and it’s a testament to him that the young actors appeared to suffer no nerves or discomfort in their demanding roles. Although it’s difficult subject matter as it unfolds, Medea is worth the ticket price to see the amazing accomplishments of the young actors. The play is recommended for ages 12+ for obvious reasons.

Medea is playing at the Bille Brown Theatre, Brisbane until 8 June 2024

Vicki Englund

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