Edinburgh Fringe 2011
This is a clever take on the classic story. While Medea and Jason vent their bitterness at each other, there’s no need to ask ‘won’t someone think of the children?’ because this is what this version is all about: the kids are always on the forefront of the stage, while their more famous parents stalk the edges of the story. It’s through their eyes that we see events, and because of that, the big scary monster lurking in the shadows is not death, or murder, but simply divorce.
That being the case, this version of Medea, somewhat startlingly, is less a riff on the classic myth, and more a examination by kids – and for kids – of what it is to attempt the wreckage of your parents splitting up. And there has rarely been a mum and dad in history who have set off against each other as explosively as Medea and Jason. But, again, it’s not really their story told on stage – at least, not unless it directly involves the children’s reaction to it.
In this way then, at least thematically, it has something in common with Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead, at least in the way that the main events of the ‘proper’ play are happening offstage or in the background, and two of the minor characters are left to cope as best they can. Throughout the earliest part of the piece, Medea (played by easily the tallest actor in the company) can be seen pacing back and forth in the background, her panic and anguish making her unfocussed and unable to recognise the needs of her own children. In this way, Medea’s Children succeeds in ensuring that we the audience don’t automatically cast Medea as the wronged victim of the piece – certainly, as a mother, she’s as guilty as anyone of abandoning her duties.
While there isn’t any audience participation, something about the energy of this piece, coupled with the engaging performers, makes us in the audience feel that we are children at play – even Jason is wearing a crown that bears more relation to a child’s costume than to a genuinely regal piece of headgear. Certainly, it is sometimes a little rough and messy around the edges, but there’s the very real sense that, while that may not be deliberate, it’s deliberately allowed: while the audience are always passive observers, we feel that we are part of the children’s make-believe world and part of their coping mechanism.
A fantastic wit and humour pervades the piece – not often something you’d associate with Medea, and it doesn’t detract from the larger themes of the play, culminating in quite the most elegant response you’re ever likely to hear to that question about where babies come from. The ending of the play, so problematic even if you’re doing a straight telling of the myth, is handled well here: new audience members, particularly kids, will find it clear and even positive, while those who know the story well will recognise the troubling degree of ambiguity. Worth seeing.