One of the difficulties with Euripides’ play is that when Medea kills her children in an act of vengeance, we have little idea who they are or what they mean to her. They are ciphers: as if the act of infanticide is enough, and the victims’ identities are of no importance. Kate Mulvany’s Medea provides the antidote: it’s a Noises Off version of Euripides’ play, where the centre of attention becomes Glance and Creon’s bedroom (renamed Leon and Jasper). Mum and Dad and Dad’s new girlfriend are off bickering downstairs, and the drama instead focuses on the central victims of their tragedy.
It’s obvious what the shortcomings of this premise are from the start. To begin with the play would be pretty inaccessible to anyone without a knowledge of the myth. Then there’s the fact that the protagonists are of necessity oblivious to the drama that surrounds and eventually engulfs them. What we have, then, is a majorly protracted version of that moment in horror movies in which the victim unwittingly awaits their death: the two kids play games, ignore the signs, the tension builds and then they die.
And yet Anne-Louise Sark’s award winning production – which transfers from the Belvoir St Theatre in Sydney – finds within this thinned version of the play a lot of real value. It’s an extremely confident production: happy to meander, and to at times be about nothing but these two young boys inhabiting a space. The result is a portrait of childhood that feels evocative and tender.
Bobby Smalldridge and Keir Edkins-O’Brien are impressive as Leon and Jasper – they find a playfulness that is subtly underwritten with loneliness and anxiety. Amy Jane Cook’s design is simple but impactful.
At times the production all feels a bit safe and middle-class – couching high drama in what sometimes feels like a family sitcom set in Clapham. This is a pity – as for a production that seems to be about discovering familiar and recognisable elements within classical tragedy (which often feels so remote), it could appeal to wider demographic. But then we are in Notting Hill.