MEDEA The Mother

Orange Studio, 1063c Ferry Road, Christchurch

12/03/2018 - 13/03/2018

New Athenaeum Theatre, 24 The Octagon, Dunedin

08/03/2018 - 10/03/2018

Dunedin Fringe 2018

Production Details

“One day the story will change.”

Medea: Heroine. Wife. Murderer. Mother.

Enter the tormented mind of Medea and decide if she is truly a Barbarian or merely just a human. Laura Irish leads the audience on a twisted path of passion, honesty and violence – dissecting literature’s most despised woman while challenging mankind’s love affair with slighting the very people who give us life.

This one-woman interactive adaptation of Euripides’ tragic Medea weaves together the actor’s personal story of motherhood with the ancient Greek text. It is an exploration of the universal plights and expectations of parenthood that we still face today and cheekily asks the bold question of society, “so… what’s changed and what still needs to change?”

Medea, warrior Barbarian princess, falls in love with the famous Jason after saving his life and assisting him in acquiring the Golden Fleece. She is swept away to an unaccepting new world far from home to start a family with the man she loves. After their passionate union, Jason coldly fades from her and announces his engagement to a new younger woman. He turns his back on Medea and their children as they are exiled to accommodate his pending marriage. The Barbarian and the Betrayer face off in a destructive battle of pride, passion and revenge culminating in the unspeakable.

Laura Irish is an award-winning actress, improviser and playwright with a penchant for investigating villains. She is a classically trained actress, having studied Stanislavski and Shakespeare in NYC at the Stella Adler Studio of Acting. She is the Artistic Director of the Nelson Fringe Festival and Director of Ghost Light Theatre in Nelson. Classical plays are her passion with her most notable roles being Bonnie Parker (Hot Chocolate and the Trail’s End, A Story of Bonnie & Clyde), Lady Macbeth (Adelaide Fringe), Emilia (Othello), Robin Goodfellow – A Puck (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) and Viola (Twelfth Night). More info Duration 60 mins

R16 Content

2018 Tour Schedule

March 3 – Preview at Ghost Light Theatre, Nelson

March 8, 9, 10 – New Athenaeum Theatre, Dunedin
Ticket price range $13, concession $10
Booking details

March 12, 13 – Orange Studios, Christchurch

Tickets ‘pay what you can’ $12/$20/$40
via Eventbrite

March 22-25, Ghost Light Theatre, Nelson

Theatre ,

50 minutes

Generous and rewarding

Review by Erin Harrington 13th Mar 2018

Medea is one of literature and myth’s great ‘bad mothers’. She is a barbarian princess who leaves her home to help hero Jason acquire the legendary Golden Fleece, only for him to reject her so that he may marry the daughter of the Corinthian king Creon. (Jerk.) Medea is to be exiled, but faced with a host of terrible choices she decides instead to kill her children, in large part to punish Jason, and she absconds with their bodies to Athens.

American-born, Nelson-based writer-performer Laura Irish weaves together sections from Euripedes’ Medea with autobiographical material, and the parallel narratives combine to form a compelling and complex portrait of maternal ambivalence.  Gently and warmly, and sometimes very sadly, she unpicks the impossible cultural expectations we have of mothers.

Irish excerpts portions of the Euripedes’ play that focus on Medea’s isolation and grief, and the way that as both woman and mother she is denied agency within a patriarchal society, to try to understand what might drive such a terrible choice.  

In counterpoint, she takes us through her own experiences of motherhood, from the accidental conception of her first child, when she is a young woman living in South Korea, through to her current situation, as the mother of two young children. These autobiographical portions are frank and sincere. They are delivered with a quiet, even ironic control, and a soft humour, that belies the hurt and anger that sits beneath many of the experiences.

After all, how can you reconcile the fact that you don’t have the life or the career you expected, with the fact that your beloved toddler told you that they loved you more than anything, and then wiped poo on your shirt? The constricting cultural narrative is that mothers are always-already fallible – but also, that it has always been so, and it’s up to us to try to treat each other better.

There’s a distinction between the heightened, formal presentation of the classical material and the more demotic contemporary narrative that’s really rewarding, especially as Irish segues between the two. Irish has a delicious voice and strong stage presence.

Medea, The Mother sits apart from many other contemporary engagements with motherhood because of its balanced and welcome account of the pervasiveness of maternal ambivalence. Drawing from her own experiences with maternal isolation, and the crush of external and internal expectations, Irish asks: when do we become mothers? Why are we so alone? And when, if ever, does this stop?

Her recollection of post-natal loneliness and fear, of problems with breast feeding and the judgments of others, and her honest account of the way her ambitions and dreams have been rerouted, are always framed by the fact that she deeply loves her children. It’s never “I love my children, but…”, and instead is “I love my children, and…” 

Director Vanessa Wells teases out nuance and finds interesting ways to use movement and space in a restricted environment. The staging is economical (as befits a touring fringe show) although the space at Orange Studio is very tight, and it’s obvious from her body language that Irish is itching to spread out a little further. Hemp ropes and string lights, which dangle from the partitions that mark the back of the playing space, add depth and texture to the small space, while also gesturing to the way that rope might act as both connection and constriction.

Costuming is likewise simple. Irish spends most of the show in a plain linen smock, but there’s some lovely work at the outset with a red wrap that works as clothing and a bundled child wrap, that I’d hoped would make a reappearance.

That said, our performance pushes out to nearly 80 minutes, so there is scope for tightening things up a touch. It’s tempting to turn the dial straight to 11 when you’re pulling emotional monologues out of context, and a little more needs to be done to ensure that the beats of the combined arcs work together holistically.

Irish should be commended for her generosity, for while the focus is on her personal story, it always gestures towards the struggles with motherhood, or expectations about motherhood, that many women face, be they willing mothers, accidental parents, or unable or unwilling to have children. It might take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support a mother. 


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The wretched beauty of humanity

Review by Dylan Shield 09th Mar 2018

As a bit of a sucker for all things Naturalism, upon learning Laura Irish had studied Stanislavski’s method at the Stella Adler Institute, I rushed to secure my seat for this retelling of tale of the “ultimate mother”. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Irish casts a mesmerising figure as her red-hooded silhouette enters the performance space, chanting in ecstasy and agony to a drone, her hood taking on the roles of lover and child. While the audience is reeling from her exertion, she continues by slipping seamlessly in and out of the character of Medea, interweaving the allegory and myth with her own experiences of motherhood, relating the two seemingly disparate tales with surprising and sincere reality and humour.

The proto-feminism of the original text is shown in a whole new light when portrayed alongside the struggles faced by modern mothers, particularly those left to raise a child alone; the vilification of solo mothers, although not as outwardly prevalent nowadays, is still very much a part of society. Particular note must also be made of the actress’s focus, made evident in her ability to continue unflinchingly in the face of some rather raucous laughter from one or two especially vocal patrons. 

Despite the portrayal of the character of Medea being a genuinely passionate one, I feel it suffers from the slightly wooden reading that classical texts are often inclined to receive, and could do with a more naturalistic approach to better serve as a counterpoint to Irish’s auto-biographical scenes. A touch of careful trimming of the former would also help with pace toward the end of the piece. Due to the nature of the performance space, it is also a little difficult for anyone beyond the third row to appreciate the segments performed on the floor.

Regardless, this is a very enjoyable and thought-provoking beginning to this year’s Dunedin Fringe Festival, with an obvious abundance of care, time, research, and reflection devoted to it. Whether her eyes are glistening with Stanislavskian proficiency while literally wearing the judgment of others, or they’re burning with the sincere humour of a mother with a robotic infant daughter who refuses to sleep, Laura Irish presents, above all else, humanity.

This is a production with a central message of acceptance and forgiveness of all, but most importantly of oneself; as is poignantly delivered at the conclusion of the piece: “We are all as wretched and beautiful as each other.” 


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