"I decided to include real children in the development of MEDEA because their minds work in ways that are so different from ours as adults. Their politics are different, their hearts are less shielded, they don’t psychologise everyone and their imaginations are simply wild."
In this week's backstage blog, get an insight into the development into one of Theatre Works' most ambitious projects ever as we chat to Steven Mitchell Wright, director of MEDEA: Out of the Mouths of Babes.
Q: What drew you to Euripedes' Medea?
A: I’ve been interested in and working with the myths of Medea since 2001. Throughout my career I’ve included Medea as a character and theatrical thread in other works and I’ve done a number of creative developments for different versions Medea but none have made the stage until now.
Deciding to come back to these myths in 2022 started simply from me looking for something that had some meat on the bones, by which I mean - a starting point that has a solid story and strong imagery that would allow the creative team to go to somewhere bold and full of life.
Q: What inspired you to approach this story "Out of the Mouths of Babes"?
A: Coming out of two years of covid-induced-domestic-drudgery I wanted to ensure the world we were creating and exploring didn’t feel or look like the one we currently live in, while still exploring themes and concepts that are relevant to contemporary life. Choosing to frame this particular retelling from the perspective of the children came about initially from not wanting to demonise, justify or vilify either Medea or Jason in one particular light. I think in the current political climate with the kind of media and social media cycles that we have - it would be very easy to tell a reductive version of this story, which I’m simply not interested in - which is why I decided to include real children in the development of the work. Their minds work in ways that are so different from ours as adults, their politics are different, their hearts are less shielded, they don’t psychologise everyone and their imaginations are simply wild.
We rarely make work about children, unless it is made for children - more often than not children are used simply as theatrical devices, their lives and feelings exist within a work to affect the adults in the narrative. In most readings of the Medea myths they posit a rather peculiar rhetoric of who suffered more, lost more, sacrificed more between Jason and Medea while ignoring the obvious fact that it was the children. They lost their parents, their lives and their futures.
Medea: Out of the Mouths of Babes doesn’t erase the experience of the adult characters but it focuses on the experience of the young ones - those who are all too often weaponised in adult arguments (and legislation for that matter) without a voice of their own.
Q: Can you tell us about the development of the work and the Children's Council?
A: In the process of development we interviewed five children aged six to ten and got their take on the story, got them to describe key scenes, draw how the characters and scenes looked and we’ve taken that on board and it’s shaped the work in a surprising way. The show very much follows the story as we know it but not from the angle we usually look at it from. Purists will still have enough there for them to enjoy the work but there are new things that the children discovered which I’d never thought of.
We took the results from the Children’s Council into the writing room and the design rooms and from there we began to reshape and restructure the work finding ways for the children’s input to be included and subsequently Medea’s children to be more present in the work. We started with the traditional Greek structure of Parados, Prologos, Stasimon etc.. and looked at how we can transpose those ideas for a contemporary audience and our take on the story. We created a framing device that allows the audience to directly access Medea’s children and then we looked at what the children were privy to in the story and what they weren’t. Many of the translations include a lot of wringing-of-hands soliloquies which were the first things to go because the children weren’t there to hear the inner workings of the adult characters' minds. We redrafted some scenes, we wrote some new scenes and then we left some big gaps in the text for us to play with on the floor.
Q: How is this vision unfolding in rehearsals?
A: Getting the team and the actors in the room - we immediately began to talk about the playing style of the work and the forms we were playing with - this work isn’t naturalism, it’s not really any particular form or genre we can point at. It’s large in scale - its life and myth recalled through the minds of children. It’s that idea that drives all the choices we are making on the floor, in the design, the sound, video. At the end of week 2 of rehearsal and from here we began to layer in productions element, working with the live-feed in the space, adding sound cues to the scenes and finding the emotional connection for the actors within this larger than life form.