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REVIEW: 'Medea' at Queensland Theatre

By Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks

Original concept by Anne-Louise Sarks after Euripides

Directed by Daniel Evans

Queensland Theatre's production of "Medea" breathes new life into Euripides' ancient Greek tragedy by viewing the story through the innocent eyes of Medea’s two young sons, Jasper and Leon. Within the confines of their shared bedroom, the brothers navigate the complexities of childhood with laughter, quarrels, and boundless imagination. While the echoes of their parents' escalating arguments reverberate outside their locked door, the boys remain oblivious to the impending tragedy ahead. Directed by Daniel Evans, this production offers a fresh perspective on the legend as we witness the final 80 minutes of their young lives.

A Modern-Day Tragedy:

Set in a contemporary bedroom meticulously designed by Chloe Greaves, the staging cleverly captures the boys' sense of isolation. This modern-day Brisbane bedroom feels incredibly authentic, down to the glow-in-the-dark stars, sports posters, abundant toys, and a real tank housing their beloved goldfish. The simplicity of the child's bedroom, usually a place of comfort and safety, starkly contrasts with the palpable tension just below the surface. Additionally, the entire stage is encased in glass, causing the audience to become detached observers, unable to intervene as we witness the boys trapped in their figurative and literal glass coffin.

The script by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks combines playful banter with ominous undertones, capturing the purity of childhood against the backdrop of looming adult conflicts. Moments where the boys' games and conversations mirror themes of betrayal and revenge are particularly impactful; as is the tragic irony of the boys' innocent oversights, such as referring to their father's mistress as "dad's friend" and Leon reassuring Jasper that "I'll always be your big brother even when we are old... like 30.” Evans' direction ensures that the story's tragic inevitability is ever-present, yet he still allows the audience to hope for a different conclusion.


The young actors' performances are a testament to their talent and the supportive environment fostered by their families and the creative team. Felix Pearn’s portrayal of Jasper is endearing and hilariously charming, easily weaving moments of comic relief into the characters’ shared journey. His well-timed comedic moments, like attempting to unlock the door using the force like Yoda, sparked consistent laughter from the audience. Orlando Dunn-Mura’s portrayal of Leon balances authority with vulnerability, embodying a commanding yet tender and protective older brother. Their on-stage interactions create a vibrant and authentic portrayal of sibling camaraderie. A particularly tender scene occurs when Leon uplifts Jasper's spirits with a sweet rendition of ‘Octopus's Garden’ on the ukulele, highlighting the purity of their bond amidst the chaos.

Medea's entrance at the 30-minute mark dramatically shifts the tone of the play, announcing that the boys will be moving in with their father and his "friend." Helen Cassidy's portrayal of Medea is hauntingly mesmerising as she navigates the emotional complexities of the character while delicately balancing strength and vulnerability. She transitions from a loving and nurturing mother to a woman consumed by despair as she masks her inner turmoil with a façade of composure for her children's sake. Particularly harrowing is her dissociative state as she dresses her boys and recites all the things that she loves about them, leaving me with a lingering sense of unease and gut-wrenching ache. Cassidy's portrayal adds rich complexity to this legendary character, rendering her a mother both pitiable and horrifying in equal measure.

Design Elements:

Mike Willmett's sound design and Matt Scott’s lighting work together to immerse the audience in the children's experience. From moments of uncomfortable silence to playful interludes, cricket noises, and musical sequences including a haunting rendition of ‘God Only Knows’, the soundscape is always amplifying the unsettling mood.

The LED lights lining the glass enclosure allow for subtle or dramatic lighting changes. One particularly striking moment is when the brothers eavesdrop on their parents’ heated argument, capturing the muffled noise through the door with chilling realism. The stage floods with a sinister red light, and a rising drone amplifies the tension, making the audience feel as helpless as the characters while they rage and trash their room.

Another unforgettable scene unfolds later when the boys flick off the lights to transform the room into a galaxy full of twinkling stars and dancing ribbons of light. This simple yet profound choice immerses the audience in the brothers’ world of magic and wonder one last time. Along with the incredible soundscape of atmospheric noise and their sweet singing, this scene served as a poignant reminder of the fleeting nature of childhood, leaving a bittersweet pain in my heart afterwards.

Impact and Recommendation:

This adaptation of "Medea" is a masterful blend of ancient tragedy and modern storytelling, exploring innocence and betrayal through the eyes of those most affected that unfortunately, remains relevant today. It serves as a reminder of the beauty in the simplicity of a child's world, even within dark tales. The combination of stellar performances, innovative set design, and evocative lighting and sound creates an immersive experience that is both heart-warming and heart-breaking. I highly recommend seeing this show. It will only take up 80 minutes of your day, but its impact will stay with you long after. "Medea" is running until Saturday, 8th June, at The Billie Brown Theatre in South Brisbane.


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