Ancient story is painfully familiar


PLAYWRIGHT Liz Lochhead offers a fresh reading of Medea, originally performed in 431 BC, by staging it outdoors at Crossways, home of the headmaster of St Andrew’s College. Incorporating multi-lingual and multi-cultural references makes Euripides’ tragedy credible and accessible. It is chillingly relevant to our society today. Remarkable stand-out performances by leads Emily Whitefield (Medea) and Johan Baird (Jason) produce a riveting experience, even in inclement weather.

The production’s chorus is also tight in its collaborative spirit, which offers a meaningful concatenation of vocal response to Medea’s grim perspective.

The young characters are played by real children: William Marx, Joshua Marx and Willow Gainsford are particularly well directed, offering the drama a shattering poignancy appropriate to the work’s simple horror of infanticide.

The rest of the cast is competent, with the disappointing exception of Silulami Lwana in the role of Kreon, who doesn’t always articulate clearly.

The axis of the story is the cliché that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Medea and Jason have three beautiful children between them. Then he cheats on her with the daughter of a king. King Kreon is satisfied that this union will be legitimised in a marriage, and the upshot of this is that the three kids will fall under Jason and his new bride Glauke’s custody. Medea will lose her rights, not only to mother them, but to be in her own home with them.

Medea is so unspeakably outraged at this that she plots to erase and defile his memory as thoroughly as she is able. This involves the killing of her own three tousle-headed children.

The agonising possibility of a parent considering taking the lives of her own children is horrifyingly with precedent in our world.

Sitting in the garden of this beautiful stone building and hearing the anguished cries coming from within the house, one shifts between listening to an ancient tale well told, and considering the sickening damage that domestic violence and inter-community gossip can do.

– Robyn Sassen –