Review written by Flossie Waite
A Unicorn Production
Playing until 25th November 2016
For ages 13+
When My Mother Medea opened at the Unicorn, the American election was still dragging on (its opening night was exactly in between Pussygate and the Comey announcement that the FBI was looking into more of Clinton’s emails). I’m watching Medea almost at the end of its run, in the week that President-elect Trump – who has vowed to deport millions of immigrants and is considering barring Syrian refugees – tweeted that theatre should be a safe space. Justin Audibert’s production is anything but safe. It’s uncomfortable and in your face, delivering a few home truths to a world that – as Trump’s election and Brexit would suggest – is content to at best ignore, and at worst attack, those considered different or foreign.
Eriopis (Stephanie Levi-John) and Polyxenos (Lawrence Walker) are acutely aware of their status as outsiders (“It’s so shit being one of the ‘others'”). The siblings have crossed an entire continent 3 times, and been to 7 different schools in 3 years, so when they’re asked to tell the class about themselves (and we are the class, sat at graffitied school tables with pencil cases and revision notes stacked in front of us) they struggle to see the point. The pair have moved so often, they’ve lost track of who they are, and are pretty sure no one else cares anyway; if they do, it’s simple:”We’re us, you’re you, end of”.
As immigrants, theirs is a world of daily microagressions. My Mother Medea exposes everyday moments of prejudice that for many of us would otherwise be hidden, but make it seem less surprising that UKIP receive as many votes as they do. Teachers expect bad results from people of Eriopis’ and Polyxenes’ “background” (“which everyone knows means fucking foreigners”), and parents don’t want them around their kids (“you don’t know what sort of influence they’ll have”). Terrified of being deported, furious at their racist treatment, and desperate to feel loved and fit in, Eriopis and Polyxenos respond in different ways. While younger brother Polyxenos is more positive (and potentially more naive), Eriopis is defensive and angry, dishing out violent threats. When it comes to survival in a strange land, though, they are unified: “You mustn’t attract attention”. Their situation requires blending in, something we as an audience are all forced to attempt as we avert our gaze to avoid being picked on or questioned by a no-nonsense Eriopis stalking the classroom.
In Greece, Eriopis and Polyxenes “were the children of kings and here, we’re beggars”. Their parents’ celebrity means nothing in a new land, not that having a famous family helped their home life. Dad Jason was absent, cheated on their mum and is happily shacked up with a younger woman and a brand new family; their mum Medea was formerly a classy, beautiful, “tough bitch” until her husband left, now she is just “another abandoned woman”. Exiled from her home, reviled for being a non-Greek barbarian, unable to fit in anywhere, Medea is an oppressed woman who by the production’s end has been pushed to the ultimate limit. Playwright Holger Schober works on behalf of the forgotten, ignored, mistreated and marginalised – Medea is treated with compassion and her children, who are afforded only one line in Euripides’ tragedy, are given a voice.
This play presents urgent, challenging issues in a way that can’t be ignored to an audience constantly put on the spot, unable to passively watch. Sometimes theatre is safe, but perhaps the best theatre isn’t.
Children’s Theatre Reviews exists to help plug the gap in criticism and writing about theatre for young audiences. It is run entirely voluntarily, and needs support to continue covering and supporting the sector. For more information and to help give children’s theatre the voice it deserves, please visit our Patreon page.