BWW Review: MEDEA by Black Swan State Theatre Company
BLACK SWAN State Theatre Company has brought Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks' 'radical' contemporary adaptation of Medea to WA under the direction of Sally Richardson, in collaboration with WAYTCo. This adaptation tells the story of Medea through the eyes of her two boys in the lead-up to their tragedy.
Leon and Jasper are locked in their room, which is strewn with the detritus of boyhood - plastic playthings, water guns, action figures, game pieces, stuffed toys, etc. Each boy has his own peculiarities; they share the same language and stories, but their perspectives on what they know of life differ. Leon, the older brother, patiently endures Jasper's childish antics, and Jasper is blissfully ignorant of the things in the grown-up world that Leon is beginning to learn.
They play war games, and retell the story of Jason, their dad, and his Argonauts, and the story of how Jason agreed to take Medea away from her homeland and marry her. At one point, Jasper is in desperate need of a trip to the loo, but being locked in the room, he has little other option but to wet himself. The boys are aware of their parents' quarrels, and of his father's plan to take them to live with him and his new girlfriend. It doesn't appear to worry them too much; you get the sense that as long as they have each other, they have little to fear.
Medea (Alexandria Steffensen) enters their untidy cocoon periodically to tell them to tidy up, to get them to write a card to "Dad's friend" which will accompany a gift supposedly from them. It is assumed that the audience is already familiar with Euripides's Medea, and that we realise what that pretty gift box contains. Medea enters one last time with two goblets of coloured liquid, and helps them get dressed in their Sunday finest in anticipation of their father's arrival. Again, the audience should know what's in those glasses.
Because the playwrights assume we know what's going on outside the walls of the boys' bedroom, they let us join the dots rather than telling us how to feel as the end draws near. We are left to find our own emotion within the narrative, and for my part, I simply wasn't moved. I have no doubt that parents would feel far more strongly about the unfolding tragedy, as they imagine their own children in Leon and Jasper's shoes. Indeed, there were a few sobs and sniffles to be heard as Medea rendered her death sentence and gave her final soliloquy. But I needed more present, tangible evidence of that encroaching danger, more of the adults' tensions brought into the room, to raise the hairs on the back of my neck.
The pair of young actors, Jesse Vakatini (Leon) and Jalen Hewitt (Jasper) who carried the play on opening night were truly heroic. To be brave and clear in front of an expectant, unpredictable audience of adults (and critics), to fight through nerves or whatever else could trip them up (a random Lego piece perhaps), and deliver a sweet, honest portrayal of brotherhood and childhood is remarkable.
And therein lies the heart of this 'version' of Medea, if it can still be considered as such.