This contemporary adaption of Euripides’ classic, performed by Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, merges the well-known tale of Medea with the modern-day case of Deborah Green, a woman still in prison to this day for poisoning her husband and murdering her children in 1979 after discovering his infidelity. By transporting the play to the present, and a ‘based on a true story’ spin, Stone gives a much more tangible and authentic feel to a play that usually seems much more distanced from reality. We are able to see how this mythical, elusive persona translates to the real world, and how a character typically seen as manipulative, ruthless, even barbaric, may in actual fact be a person that we could encounter in our own lives.
The play begins with Anna (Marieke Heebink) returning home after being sent to a psychiatric ward for habitually poisoning her husband’s food every time her cheated on her. She arrives expecting things to just return to normal, but her husband Lucas (Aus Greidanus Jr.) and his lover, Clara (Eva Zoe Heijnen), don’t feel the same way. Her children are stuck in the middle, and she is denied her previous job as a physician. Once an intellectual with a bright future ahead, she finds herself in a situation of disarray and is driven to a point of no return. This historically cold character is given a human edge that makes us sympathise with her, when we find out that her husband’s prize-winning research was based on all her own work. She ultimately performs the ultimate act of vengeance, by sacrificing her children in order to get revenge on Lucas. It is difficult to imagine a scenario in which a woman seemingly as calculating and highly intelligent as Anna would consider sex more important than her motherhood, a scenario in which a plausible case could be made for these murderous actions, but this is exactly what Stone manages to do.
The story throws into our minds questions of gender politics as well as the typical examination of the psychological state of a woman who murders her children. Bob Cousins’ staging is a bright white, sterile and aseptic, simulating not only the laboratory in which Anna used to work, a reminder of what she once was, but also the psychiatric ward, a reminder of who she has become. Serving as an apt blank canvas for the striking stage effects we see later in the play, the blood seems even more haunting against the stark white, and the finale even more arresting. There is nothing else on the stage, leaving the characters totally exposed.
My only qualm, which was understandably unavoidable, was the position of the English subtitles, which made it difficult to watch both the physicality of scene unfolding on stage and also understanding the Dutch itself. Stone makes up for this with the interesting artistic choice to have a sort of video diary weaved into the plot by the two teenage sons, with the subtitles screen containing live close-up shots of the characters for some of the duration of the play.
With notably exceptional performance from Marieke Heebink for a heart-wrenching Anna, contemporary audiences will be thrilled by this Greek classic framed with modern attitudes and narratives. Unfortunately, this only showed for 3 days in London, but if I were you, I’d be on the look out for the next Simon Stone piece. Between this version of Medea, and his beautiful take on Yerma a few years ago at the Young Vic, I’m sure you will not want to miss his next production.