Greek tragedy is child’s play for eight-year-old actor

Liz Hobday |

Edward Hill, 8, has a lead role in Medea, an award-winning retelling of Euripides’ Greek tragedy.
Edward Hill, 8, has a lead role in Medea, an award-winning retelling of Euripides’ Greek tragedy.

Young actor Edward Hill believes his friends would have trouble understanding his life on the stage.

“They barely know what it is so they don’t really have a reaction, it’s like they could barely comprehend it,” he told AAP.

At the age of eight, Hill has a lead role in Queensland Theatre’s production of Medea, an award-winning retelling of Euripides’ Greek tragedy, told from the perspective of her sons.

Edward Hill onstage as Jasper with Helen Cassidy as Medea
Hill has a heavy workload but he’s handling it, and accepts that he’s “not a normal”. (HANDOUT/QUEENSLAND THEATRE)

Not only that, he’s juggling the part with his role in another Brisbane production, Merrily we Roll Along, at the Ad Astra Theatre.

All this doesn’t leave much time for school, where Hill studies year ten maths and year seven science via homeschool, attending class two days a week.

The gifted young theatre star does not find any of this unusual, or even particularly challenging – Hill says he’s not someone who needs much rest.

“I’ve adapted to it over the years, I’m not a normal human, I accept that.”

The Hill family is well known in Brisbane’s arts community, with his mother running a dance school and his aunt and uncle currently part of the Merrily We Roll Along production.

Yet even for the most worldly eight-year-old, Medea has one hell of a storyline – as the play progresses the murder of her two sons draws inexorably closer.

“They have pretend adventures all around their room, they have fights, all kinds of stuff,” said Hill.

“In the end they get poisoned.”

In the titular role, theatre veteran Helen Cassidy acknowledges feeling a protectiveness towards Hill and his co-star Jeremiah Rees, 11, a sentiment she says is also felt by director Daniel Evans and the rest of the Queensland Theatre crew.

“Some of these kids, I feel like their CVs are longer than mine, they are making it look very easy,” she said.

“I feel like Eddie is theatre royalty already, he commands the room like no other.”

The adaptation by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks originally premiered at Sydney’s Belvoir St Theatre in 2012, before either of these young stars were born, and since then it has collected a swag of awards and been produced on stages worldwide.

As Medea, Cassidy brings the emotional heft of the myth and its tragic conclusion with her each time she steps onstage, yet her part only adds up to about 20 minutes of stage time.

Theatre star Helen Cassidy (left) who plays Medea, with Hill.
Theatre star Helen Cassidy (left) who plays Medea, says Hill can really command a room. (HANDOUT/QUEENSLAND THEATRE)

The bulk of the play is entrusted to the child actors for almost 80 minutes – and it’s this decision to tell the story from their perspective that is truly groundbreaking, said Cassidy.

The mother of a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old, it’s her first professional show working with young actors, and she says being surrounded by pre-teen energy has blurred the line between home and work.

While the actor and director says she would have been terrified doing a mainstage production when she was a child, her own teenager has already succeeded in film and television.

“I’m hoping he might get it out of his system and become something sensible, like an engineer,” she laughed.

As Medea, Cassidy is also working with a second child cast, Orlando Dunn-Mura, 13, and Felix Pearn, 10, that has made for two quite different versions of the play, with audiences returning to see both.

“Eddie and Jeremiah have a very playful, naive sort of relationship whereas the other two, Orlando and Felix, are a lot more serious and thoughtful,” she said.

Already professionals, whether the four boys decide to stick with theatre long term isn’t really the point for Cassidy, who says the young actors are having a ball.

“They’re going to have this experience for the rest of their lives, whether they decide to be actors or not,” she said.

Medea plays at Brisbane’s Bille Brown Theatre until June 8.