Laura Irish blends her story of motherhood with that of one of literature’s despised women in Medea. Photo: Ishna Jacobs.

Laura Irish’s Medea adaptation seeks to break down motherhood labels


Laura Irish was with her new-born son in a studio apartment in South Korea when she first felt the petrifying isolation that can come with motherhood.

“I had never felt so alone, with so much pressure to do a job I had no training to do and no guide book to learn,” she says.

It is an experience that permeates “Medea, the Mother” where the Nelson-based award-winning writer and actor leads the audience on a path of passion, honesty and ultimately violence.

Reviewers have called the play “the voice of very mother”. Now it is coming to Ghost Light Theatre this weekend.

The play dissects literature’s most despised woman, Medea, who infamously killed her children to spite her husband. But Irish looks deeper, to humanise the character and ask questions about how a mother could have been taken to such a terrible decision.

As Medea says: “One day the story will change.”

Irish does this by running her own story in parallel to the classical Greek text. Through physical and interactive theatre, the audience is taken through the birth of Irish’s first child in a foreign land to a man she barely knew, and traces it through to her realisations of the similarities between Medea and herself.

“The eventual decisions we made were very different but they could have been similar,” she says.

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, we stop being mothers?

She has just returned from a successful run of the show at the Dunedin Fringe Festival and in Christchurch where reviewers admired her honesty and creativity in addressing an issue that is so often left unspoken in households.

“There are so many people that feel the same things I did and still do but we keep it to ourselves, thinking everyone else has it all figured out … I hope this lets people voice their worries and fears but also allows our closest friends and family permission to acknowledge those pressures.”

Irish says the show is as much for women as it is for men.

“Some of the most powerful responses have been from men who have been presented with a side to the story that they often haven’t really considered.”

As one reviewer noted: “It might take a village to raise a child, but it also takes a village to support a mother.”

Medea, the Mother is on at Ghost Light Theatre, 146 Bridge St, from March 22-25 at 7pm. Tickets through or on the door. $13-45.