This profoundly moving new version of a myth from the time of Homer is a beautiful execution of a simple idea by director Anne-Louise Sarks: make the kids the main characters rather than their parents. Her script, co-written with Kate Mulvany specifically for this stage and cast, presumes that Euripides's 431 BCE version is running backstage (and in the back of our minds) but differs at several points: in that adult version Medea kills her two boys offstage with a sword. They have earlier delivered her poisoned gift to her husband's fiancee; here they just write the card. Euripides didn't name the boys: their only lines are their death cries. Here Leon (Joseph Kelly) and Jasper (Rory Potter) play happily in an IKEA-like bedroom (designed by Mel Page) with their wooden swords and Nerf guns, rehearse gruesome ways to die in combat, and speculate innocently that Mum and Dad will make up again. They have some clue that their immigrant mother did something bad when she fled her country, perhaps something even worse than smoking or swearing. (Euripides tells us that she murdered her brother.)
This Medea has little time on stage, but Blazey Best powers the character with such intensity that hers might fairly be called the leading role. Euripides scrutinises his protagonist's motivations closely and with considerable sympathy; here we are given no clue, just as the boys are kept in the dark. Her main thoughts, other than the logistics of the crimes she is committing, are her love for her very loveable boys. Her long declaration at the end ("I love every little bit of you") could sound trite from a lesser actor or with less ample justification from seeing the characters beforehand (Euripides has this problem). The only hint of demonisation comes from lighting designer Benjamin Cisterne's masterly use of an onstage bedside lamp, pointed upwards to give her a slightly ghoulish, horrified look. The young actors, 13 and 12, are good enough to be judged favourably as adults; Potter retains a childlike gift for mimicry in his impression of Dad's special friend as "a chicken with lips."
This production is a major achievement, and not just the Australian Theatre for Young People and for Belvoir. The writers focused carefully on what works on stage, rather than what reads well on a page, and the result is a memorable contribution to the dramatic literature of one of the most powerful myths to evolve from oral transmission onto the stages of the world.