A mother’s dastardly deed.
“Their messy bedroom is a boy’s paradise... They’re middle-class and well provided for, though the accumulation of toys suggests gifts are given as a shorthand for love (Dad has a new “friend”).
JAMES WENLEY REVIEWS SILO THEATRE’S MEDEA,
On the cover of my battered Penguin Classics copy of Euripides’ Medea is a detail from a Greek vase. Bosom heaving, Medea towers over her first lordling; his chiselled chest makes him look more like a grown-up in miniature than a child. Her hand almost as big as his head, she pulls his hair back and pricks a dagger through his armpit, drops of red gushing down his musculature. Her expression is inscrutable.
In Silo Theatre’s Medea, a contemporary adaptation by Australians Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, the only blood we see is a nosebleed. But there’s no escaping it: the two boys, who are onstage for the entire play, are going to die, murdered by their mother.
As we enter the theatre they are already lying there on the floor, face first, playing dead. Their messy bedroom is a boy’s paradise. Deadpool’s on the wall. They’re middle-class and well provided for, though the accumulation of toys suggests gifts are given as a shorthand for love. They’re locked in seclusion while their parents sort out their marriage (Dad has a new “friend”). Their games are full of play-violence: nerf wars, sword-fighting, gruesome yet heroic deaths.
We get a detailed study in sibling dynamics. The older, Leon, assumes the role of mini-dictator, but Jasper also knows how to seize power, taking Dad’s golden jumper hostage in exchange for nerfguns. Big bro later shows great care in changing his brother’s soiled sheets. It’s daring having two boy-actors carry a play, but this is no schoolshow chore; Joe Valentine and Levi Kereama (who alternate with another pair), are impulsive, insightful, and keep us laughing throughout.
I’ve thrown spoiler caution to the Aegean wind not only because it is based on a 2000-plus-year-old original, but b ecause our ironic knowledge is the only real source of dramatic tension in this play. The childhood war of attrition and affection can sustain our interest only so far. For the play to work, it is just as essential that we know they are going to die as it is essential that the boys have no notion right up to their last breaths.
In updating Medea, one question is how the monstrous mother sits in our contemporary landscape. There have been many Medeas, in recent history as in myth, and we return to this story to grapple with the hows and whys of this transgression.
By focusing on the boys, the adapters effectively side-step this issue. While her cheeks may be stained with tears and mascara, Bronwyn Bradley fixes her mother’s mask on every time she enters the boys’ room: never let on the pain you are feeling.
Our knowledge is as limited as children’s is of their own parents’ larger emotional lives. We are simply shown the actions of the story — the task of explaining her psychology and off-stage context is left to the audience. We are an analyst with scant clues and only a mythical case history to fall back on.
It’s a cheat, but at least the boys are great. THAT BLOODY WOMAN, SKYCITY, UNTIL JUNE 26, ATC.CO.NZ
THE MAGIC FLUTE, NZ OPERA AND AUCKLAND PHILHARMONIA ORCHESTRA, AOTEA CENTRE, UNTIL JUNE 26, NZOPERA.COM
MEDEA, HERALD THEATRE, UNTIL JULY 9, SILOTHEATRE.CO.NZ