Medea (La Boite Theatre Company)
La Boite Theatre, Roundhouse Theatre
May 30 – June 20
For the over two thousand years since her story was first shared in Greek legend, the character of Medea has reigned supreme as a monster mother. Wronged by her husband Jason who abandons their shared history (and her sacrifices) when he marries Princess Glauce, Medea is exiled with her children, despite her impressive lineage. From here she plots a bloody vengeance against her husband and sets to poisoning his new bride and killing her own children in pursuit of revenge against her husband.
It is an epic drama that hinges of the portrayal of its titular character. And Christen O’Leary more than delivers in the role. Her portrayal is of a passionate woman, outraged, intense, driven and strong. So much more than just rejected wife, she is a powerful presence of her own accord as partner and co-conspirator with Jason (Damien Cassidy) in their joint empire building endeavours.
O’Leary’s realisation of the psyche of a woman whose identity has been shattered, is incredibility controlled and impressive. From the minute she embarks on her first monologue, delivered almost as manifesto to the audience, through moments of humble vulnerability, self-contended humour and harrowing despair, she takes the audience along on her roller coaster ride of emotions. Helen Christinson too, as the nurse and Princess Glauce is similarly impressive and she transitions easily between the distinct roles of loyal servant and entitled and empowered princess.
From first entry into the Roundhouse Theatre, the audience is saturated by the spectacle of its staging and a gothic sensibility that encapsulates the darkness of the text’s themes. There is an almost occult-like feel to the tableaux, as if Medea is an apothecary setting to menace her enemy with potions.
The setting is art; it’s an incredible visual experience, hauntingly beautiful and rich is aesthetic detail, and although the design is minimalistic, every inch is used to effect. Surrounded by a circle of lit candles and melted wax, a gnarled tree sits atop a large wooden table, providing opportunity for characters to climb to its heights, while two diagonally opposite stair sets serve not only as entry and exit points, but, at times, as stages within themselves. Even the walkway around the top of the stalls is used, which serves only to increase audience attention in an already engaging show. And it is wonderful to see a truly in-the-round production again filling the space. This is complemented by a re-imaged Greek chorus in the form of a capella choir (The Australian Voices) who introduce the narrative, comment on the action and interact with the actors. This does much to enhance the requisite mood and their subtle incorporation of modern classics such as INXS’s ‘Never Tear Us Apart’, is inspired.
Certainly, this is a difficult text for any theatre-maker to tackle. Medea is one of the great dramatic female roles and, as such, the work has much to potentially say from a feminist perspective. Because of this, there can be wide differences in its on-stage interpretations. At its core, however, “Medea” is a story about power and the struggle for power, themes which still resonate today and it is of enormous credit to both playwright Suzie Miller and director Todd MacDonald that this production is so easily able to convey this universality. While it remains a morally challenging tale to tell, this incantation has been crafted so as to afford not just judgement but an attempt to inspire understanding of motivation. The result is an intense night of theatre that is not trying to tell audiences how to think as much as it is just urging them to think.
Attention is a finite resource, but it is one easily surrendered to a production of this calibre. La Boite’s “Medea” need to be commended not just for bringing Euripedes’s tragedy to life, but for doing so in such a mighty manner. The result is a gutsy but beautiful show and one of the highlights of La Boite’s program, not just for the year, but of the past decade.