A mother’s das­tardly deed.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - Re­view by James Wenley

“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”).


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



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