Medea – after Euripides

Gate, Notting Hill, London (****)

© Ikin Yum

© Ikin Yum

Two Medeas closely allied in time – the Almeida’s last month with Kate Fleetwood in Rachel Cusk’s über-feminist version, now the Australian Kate Mulvany with director Anne-Louise Sarks in another radical re-appraisal. Before that last year, we had Helen McCrory in Ben Power’s updated version at the National Theatre.

Can you have too much Medea? Each have had their moments. But Mulvany/Sarks’ version, originally produced by Sydney’s excellent Belvoir Street Theatre (who brought Simon Stone’s wonderful and extraordinary Wild Duck last year to the Barbican) takes a wholly refreshing and original approach in that the focus falls directly on the children.

What, the two women have asked, happened to the children while Medea and Jason were undergoing their vicious wrangle over love, jealousy and the children? Their answer is, they played.

Amy Jane Cook’s boys’ bedroom is a pig-sty, cluttered with the normal mess of a children’s room. And at the Gate, we sit in the midst of it. We’re all in this together. No escape. The door is locked. No sound emanates from the other side. Just our eyes fixed on Jasper (meaning `precious stone’) and Leon (`brave warrior), passing the time with word games, gun fights, sword fights, quarrels over a treasured pullover (Dad’s) squirreled away by Leon.

© Ikin Yum

© Ikin Yum

So natural and accomplished the playing by the boys – on press night, adorably Bobby Smalldridge (Jasper) and Keir Edkins-O’Brien (Leon) – there’s almost nothing out of the ordinary, except for that locked door. And Mum’s occasional appearance to announce they’re moving, without her, to a mansion with Dad’s new friend; later with a present she’s prepared for the friend. Will the boys write her a note? And finally to prepare them to join Dad in clean shirt and trousers.

All the time, of course, we now the fate that awaits them building, apart from easy laughs at the boys’ jokes, a dreadful sense of unease. When the moment comes, it is quiet and intensely loving. Medea has killed the things she loves most in the world with no recriminations, no hurling of abuse. All that happens off-stage. On-stage we are left with love and a horror that leaves more questions hanging in the air than answers…

Medea runs at the Gate, Notting Hill to Dec 5, 2015

Review first published in Reviewsgate, Nov 2015 and slightly amended here