Simon Stone’s Dutch adaptation of Medea skilfully modernises the Greek tragedy without straying too far from Euripides’ original narrative, writes Laura Plumley
The Australian award-winning director, Simon Stone, delivers a newly translated adaptation of Euripides’ Medea on a short run at the Barbican. His production pulls no punches and is to the point so that the audience is in no doubt that this car-crash of a relationship between Anna and Lucas (modern-day Medea and Jason) will end badly for both.
Stone’s Dutch adaptation of Medea skilfully modernises and normalises the epic events of the Greek tragedy without straying too far from Euripides’ original narrative. In some ways, this makes the piece more hard-hitting and relevant – we know the story of Medea killing her children to punish her cheating husband, yet in this Dutch production, the rest is filled in with details from modern cases of the Medea complex.
When we first enter the theatre, we are presented with a stark set – bright white floor and walls, with a large projection screen framing the back of the stage. Two children sit separately on stage, one engrossed in his laptop, the other staring out absentmindedly into the audience. As the production begins, the projection screen rises to reveal the back section of the stage – once again bare and completely white. Cleverly, not only are the English subtitles shown on this large projection screen, we are also shown close-ups of characters as they interact on stage, via a camera in the wings. This is one of the technological innovations of the production, all of which work extremely well. The story is brought into the 21st century, in part by this use of camera work, styled into a video blog by the sons of Anna and Lucas. This is used very naturally by their generation, and the results of their project are used to devastating effect on the adults.
Considering the play’s very sensitive subject matter – infanticide, murder and mental breakdown – this company beautifully addresses the issues in a non-naturalistic manner. One particularly clever effect is the use of a stream of ash which pours down onto the stage throughout the second half of the production, to prognosticate the play’s tragic ending.
Although International Theater Amsterdam is an ensemble, this piece felt very centred around Anna, with other characters simply complementing her narrative. Marieke Heebink (Anna) commands the stage, developing a nuanced character, although in this production it was still difficult to empathise with her. Heebink’s powerful emotional variation depicts the character’s turmoil well as she struggles to come to terms with her current situation.
Although this piece is short – 80 minutes with no interval – it is packed with emotional intensity and wastes no time easing the audience into the narrative. The story is built up throughout and only at the very end do we fully understand the characters’ intertwined relationships. Although this modern adaptation takes liberties with the original storyline, it remains very clear that this production is as cathartic as its ancient counterpart. The audience is left stunned, contemplating the awfulness of the finale, which, although possibly predictable, given that Anna never seems to compromise on any point of betrayal, still remains totally stunning in its finality.
6-9 March 2019, Barbican Theatre
Laura Plumley writes for Spear's