Silo’s production of Medea by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks (after Euripides) is utterly beautiful.
We enter the world of Euripides’ epic tragedy through the bright disarray of a bedroom belonging to two young boys. There is a basketball beneath a desk, plastic bullets strewn across the room, a small aquarium, plenty of soft toys and every sign of the boyish chaos you would expect if you had the temerity to pick your way across the room.
This is the world of Jasper and Leon, the sons of our tragic heroine Medea. They are locked in their room while mum and dad sort out “marriage stuff” and the fact that there’s a “new friend” in their father’s life. This grown-up conversation, Leon tells his little brother, is quite likely to take “at least an hour”.
The work settles into itself and the repartee flows easily between the two boys who, amidst firing bullets at each other, practice their sword fighting, play word games and of course freely comment on the adults in their world.
Jasper, young, wide-eyed and innocent, is played with irresistible charm by Joe Valentine while his older brother Leon (Levi Kereama) captures just the right amount of protectiveness and maturity.
It’s a bright bright world with vivid colours and John Verryt’s set design is absolutely perfect. The room is decked with glow-in-the-dark stars and the very cosmos is brought into the bedroom as the two boys feel themselves floating across time and space. Philip Dexter’s lighting design is the perfect complement and together they present a world that is immediate in its proximity yet effectively timeless.
Although at times it is easy to get lost amidst the familiar echoes of domestic drama, this production is named after Medea. The mixture of quiet anxiety and excitement rises and when Medea blows into their world, distraught yet restrained, we begin to see the order in this children’s kingdom begin to topple.
Bronwyn Bradley carries much of the impending disaster in her short, often choked statements, willing her boys to look forward to their future yet deeply passionate about her undying love. She epitomises the maternal and is reluctant for her boys to see anything except her love: a passion that cloaks both her words and ultimately, her actions.
The irony only grows as she returns periodically. Dressed as a modern woman of status, Medea is holding it all together: well dressed, her hair in a neat bun, still wearing jewellery and high heels. There is little indication of the horror that is to come.
This portrayal of the desperate housewife is quite brilliant and Rachel House’s direction is almost flawless – particularly with the young boys, where her touch is light, flexible and leaves room for their energy and personality to work with the script.
If anything it is only towards the end that the impact of this epic tragedy plateaus. While this is not the climax of Euripides’ play, nor is it fair that we should expect anything even resembling the original cathartic release, it just doesn’t quite punch through in its closing moments.
There is so much detail to celebrate and recognise in the production’s highly naturalistic style that it relegates the original narrative to an aesthetic narrative backdrop. Consequently, the weight of the tragedy from which this production is inspired simply isn’t there.
Nevertheless, this is quite likely to be one of the most poignant and well-executed works that you will see this year.
During a game with his brother Leon insists on including the mammoth as a legitimate animal: “They were here. They existed. Their bones are still being dug up.” Rather than any climax it this declaration that is so powerful. This story of Medea’s sons reminds us of the victims in tragedies that we still see repeated far too often in our world today but it is important that we remember: They existed.