Medea: Out of the Mouths of Babes – Theatre Review

Medea was first performed in Athens 431BC, with the plot centring on the actions of Medea as she seeks revenge on Jason, after he ends their marriage. Leaving Medea for a Greek princess, her pain and embarrassment lead her to the only conclusion she sees fitting, murdering their children. Directed by Steven Mitchell Wright, this version of Medea is told from the viewpoint of the children. This insight gives the story more depth and provides a campy interpretation that I had never seen before.

Medea: Out of the Mouths of Babes opens the story with a newsroom, removing us from the expected ancient Greece setting, to a more modern one. The breaking news is the deaths of the Princess and two of Medea and Jason’s children who are alleged to have been murdered by Medea.

The stage is used to a greater effect with the news broadcast is projected onto the top of the stage, audiences viewing the broadcast as we would on TV. I thought this was a great piece of exposition, using the back and forth between the two journalists to set the story up, but also have a little debate on who Medea was as a human, already giving her more humanity than I’ve seen her been given before. The set up for this vision of Medea is through Priestess Brioche (Emily Joy) who has been brought onto the show in the hopes of communicating with one of the spirits of the dead. When the attempt is successful, the children of Medea ‘possess’ Brioche and one of the journalists (Paolo Bartolomei), causing havoc in the studio, the signal being lost, and the story begins.

Our initial introduction to Medea is her, on the floor singing Gotye’s ‘Somebody That I Used to Know‘ as projections of Jason with their children play overhead. Willow Sizer had already played one of the journalists but seeing her transformed into Medea found me having to double check my program. Her hair is styled into shiny curls, reminding me of Medusa and her hair of snakes. Her costume was vibrant and colourful, opera gloves with long bright nails. She is both bright and terrifying in her appearance, but how we are seeing her, is how the children are telling it. The actors’ performances follow this, Bartolomei’s wonderful portrayal as the children’s father shows him as a valiant soldier swishing his cape and wearing bright armour, blind to Medea’s pain, but their brave father, nonetheless.

The way the children tell their story is really the most heartbreaking aspect. Their drawings appear on the monitors at the bottom of the stage, some depicting scenes of horror, but is shown as a child would see it. Joy and Bartolomei’s performances as the children never come across as adults playing children. There is sincerity, it is never weird, never awkward, and I can only articulate it as powerhouse acting on their part. During an intense plot moment, Joy’s face was projected onto the screen, showing her reaction. She wasn’t a child, but the fear and confusion in her face was that of a child which it broke my heart and has stuck with me still.

The way additional media was used throughout the performance to enhance the storytelling is a true wonder, as the effort and skill put into these aspects are just another layer of what makes this production so unique. The use of projections and screens weren’t just a gimmick, they had chosen to use technology and they were going to use it to its truest potential. We were being given character back story and additional information in a way that flowed so well, I never felt it was being crammed down my throat. These additional visuals were stunning, the production’s video artist Chris Bennett, should be viewed as another performer because the production benefited so much from these visuals.

As Medea’s pain grows, Sizer continues to keep her portrayal of Medea humane. I knew already Medea would murder her children, but Sizer plays the character so straight, that Medea isn’t just a raving woman scorned. The audience is reminded through Sizer‘s phenomenal performance that this woman loves her children, but she’s so filled with rage that she isn’t sure where to place it.

Director Steven Mitchell Wright took a very big risk with this particular vision of Medea, and with this wonderful cast and crew, he has succeeded. Wright said in his directors notes that he had this vision to neither justify nor vilify Medea or Jason, and that this in part is why he came to this retelling through the children’s perspective. Because the truth is, the adults in this story have had their story told since 431BC and in 2022 with Medea: Out of the Mouths of Babes, the true victims have finally been given a voice.

Medea: Out of the Mouths of Babes is now playing at Theatre Works until the 20th of August.
For more information and ticketing, visit: https://www.theatreworks.org.au/medea

Photography by Morgan Roberts.

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