Love, did you say?
It is a mighty curse.
Medea, Euripides, (44).
The latest production by Black Swan Theatre Company is an adaptation of the centuries old Medea by Euripides, written by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks. The tale of love, deception and betrayal is given a contemporary spin; it is set not in the Greek city state of Corinth, but a messy, shared teenage bedroom.
The show opens with the two young boys, Jasper and Leon (Jalen Hewitt and Jesse Vakatini), “playing dead,” in what becomes a tragic foreshadowing of the play’s end*. The pacing of the play was slow at times, but the high school aged students must be commended for their performances; their relationship was believable which, given that there were only three actors, is no easy feat to achieve. The boys were funny, annoying and heartfelt at the right times, with Hewitt’s rendition of Octopus’s Garden a strange and beautiful addition to the show, and Vakatini’s poise not wavering once in seventy minutes.
The set design (concept by Bryan Woltjen, realised by Tyler Hill) was one of the highlights of the show; it boasted a beautifully lit fish tank with two live fish, a host of stuffed toys, action figures, nerf guns, and wooden swords. These props were used well in the recounting of the narrative of Medea and Jason, who isn’t named, but referred to as “Dad”. Where in Euripides’s 431BC version Jason and his betrayal is central to the drama, here it takes a backseat to the innocence and humour of the two boys as they play, fight, play-fight and debate the nature of existence. We are given an understanding of Medea’s history through Superman and Wonder Woman action figures; are reintroduced through childlike eyes to the kinds of “friends” adults might have; and encouraged to consider the universe through glow in the dark stars. Much of the play’s action is reported, save for a brilliantly choregraphed sword fight between the boys (directed by Lawrence Hassell). The recounted action and reorientation of the relationships contributed to the play not-really-feeling like the Medea you might be familiar with. What is achieved though, is a thoughtful consideration of love, marriage, betrayal and death, even if it does feel a little amateur at times.
As for the titular character? Alexandria Steffensen is formidable. She is driving force of the action, and she traverses the roles of victim, perpetrator, mother and murderer with ease. Her costume changes assisted the various roles of her character, with her first appearance violent, unhinged and glittery, and her last scene sombre and heartfelt. Her final monologue was, quite frankly, terrifying, with her screams set to an eerie score by Melanie Robinson. The pace of the show might have benefitted from Steffensen’s presence on stage, rather than her implied presence. Through a brilliantly written script, Steffensen managed to rationalise a mother’s love into justification of a double murder on stage, which re-emphasised the tragedy of the play. In this respect, the show trafficked in the abstract language of the universal and made it intimately familiar, and for this it must be celebrated.
3.5 glow in the dark stars out of 5.
Words by Aimee Dodds
*This use of foreshadowing and its role in Greek tragedy was highlighted to me by a nice, also Greek man in the audience. Thanks to Skevos Karpathakis for being a good sport.