In Euripedes’ tragedy, Medea’s doomed children are beloved, but nameless, and voiceless.
Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks’s version reverses this, giving the children’s perspective, in a tactic that echoes Tom Stoppard, who gave us Hamlet through the lens of the sidelined Rozencratz and Guildenstern.
As Medea and Jason sunder in acrimony, we remain with their two sons: locked in the attic bedroom of a comfortable middle class house.
It’s decked out like an Ikea advert in Alyson Cummins’ design, though with added childish mess and assorted toys.
Leon, on the cusp of adolescence, and his younger brother Jasper are played by Oscar Butler and Jude Lynch on opening night.
They are a convincing pair in their squabbling, their word games, their innocent yet logical impressions of the world around them.
They are directed with assured naturalism by Oonagh Murphy, and express above all a secure and trusting obliviousness, which is in some ways the best gift a parent can give.
The play, then, is a successful rendering of a child’s distance from the drama of the adult world. Some of the greatest cruelties children suffer come when that distance collapses.
But here, the boys are spared much cruelty before death. This is perhaps a mercy from Medea, and it does not ring false.
Yet, since we the audience are stuck in the attic with the children, we share that sense of being on the sidelines, albeit with foreknowledge of the terrible fate that awaits them.
Thus, Eileen Walsh’s Medea enters not just through the locked door, but from another world, another drama.
She carries her suffering and incipient derangement with her, struggling to hide it from her offspring.
Walsh is superb, but the audience is denied this Medea’s context.
What has made her a child murderer? We get only hints.
It’s enough to ensure she comes across as more than a caricature of a woman scorned; but we remain, like the children, substantially in the dark.
Yet, as an all-too-recent local tragedy has shown, Medea’s act, while inexplicable, is sadly not impossible.