Jasper (Quinn Bevan) and Leon (Aedan Burmester) are the children of Greek hero Jason (of the Argonauts fame) and the witch Medea (played by Bronwyn Bradley). As the action begins, the couple’s marriage has broken up over Jason’s infidelity and the boys have been locked in their room while their parents thrash it out.
While their parents battle over their future together, the brothers play games, agitate one another and try to figure out what is going on in the adult realm outside their bedroom door.
Written by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks, Medea is a revisionist take on the legend which inspired Euripides’ famous play. Mulvany and Sarks shift narrative focus from the title character to her children, Jasper and Leon, foregrounding the central tragedy in a more intimate and relatable way. The story of Medea and Jason’s offspring is removed from the original context, in which they were merely signifiers of the central tragedy, and situates them as kids, buffeted by the banal realities of parental neglect, marital discord and infidelity.
Directed by Rachel House, the action plays out on a set designed to resemble a contemporary child’s bedroom, with bunk beds, a fish tank, and toys strewn everywhere. It’s a mess familiar to anyone. And, sadly, so is the mess their parents are stuck in.
With all the melodrama stripped away, Bradley’s Medea emerges as a woman who has been pushed out. Her husband has found someone younger, prettier and more well-off than herself, and she finds her life collapsing.
In this way, Mulvany and Sarks also add a contemporary spin to the sexual politics of the original legend — the fact that Medea sacrificed her old life, and betrayed her father, in order to help Jason achieve his greatness. In the contemporary diegesis the writers have established, Medea’s plight becomes that of a woman who has given up her agency in order to raise a family and support her husband’s career.
The acting by the three principals is strong. Bronwyn Bradley offers an understated, alternately sympathetic and terrifying reading of Medea, and has a strong rapport with the child performers.
Two pairs of boys alternate over the performances, I saw Quinn Bevan and Aedan Burmester. Bevan, as younger brother Jasper, is hilariously believable. Mulvany and Sarks have a good handle on writing children, and Jasper is a fully realised character. With his random outbursts and short attention span, he is every inch the little brother — simultaneously annoying, endearing and, on occasion, capable of moments of great insight, Quinn is really terrific.
Playing older brother Leon, Aedan Burmester has the less showier part. He plays it more low-key, tuning in to Leon’s greater awareness of what is happening between their parents. He is essentially the straight man to Quinn, and does a good job of juggling Leon’s conflicted mental state — alternately batting Jasper away when he’s annoying him with inane nonsense, and protecting him from the trouble he knows is coming.
Together, the boys have a solid rapport, and their bond never comes across as forced. And it is a testament to their work together that when the inevitable climax finally arrives, the boys’ final moments are genuinely heart-wrenching.
The only flaw with the play is that a knowledge of the original legend is required for the whole story to work, and this context is only supplied in the program.
For those with a knowledge of the legend, Mulvany and Sarks’ work is a striking and extremely emotional take on an old story. Newcomers may not come away with the same sense of catharsis.
Medea is presented by Silo and plays at The Herald Theatre until 9 July. Details see Silo.