It is played out in Simon Stone’s modern retelling on a snow-white design (by Bob Cousins) that looks like a pristine film set—a blank canvas on which a story is about to be told. It also feels like the hellish wintry deserts of the heart itself. In one of the show’s most startling images it rains down ash as if the whole world has caught fire.
Aus Greidanus Jr and Marieke Heebink. Photo by Sanne Peper
Marieke Heebink, previously seen on this stage in Ivo van Hove’s the Roman Tragedies and Kings of War, is very much ablaze as a Medea called Anna whose story is inspired by that of American doctor Debora Green, who in 1995 while in the throes of a divorce burned down her own house killing two of her three children.
Stone’s version of Yerma at the Young Vic offered in Billie Piper a woman in the grip of obsession, and Heebink’s Anna is no less eaten up as if something is gnawing her from the inside out. Her smile may be bright, but her eyes are full of terrible pain. You keep wanting to avert your own eyes at her humiliations.
Stone’s version for International Theater Amsterdam begins with Anna released from a mental hospital after trying to poison her husband Lucas (Aus Greidanus Jr) who has started an affair with Clara (Eva Heijnen) the daughter of the boss of the pharmaceutical firm where both he and Anna work. Anna is returning to the family home and her two teenage sons, but what she really wants is her old life back and that includes her job, her family and Lucas, whose career she helped build. That is not going to happen, although the weak, easily swayed Lucas won’t say that directly.
International Theater Amsterdam and Ivo van Hove’s trademark use of video capture works brilliantly here. We both see the characters on stage—tiny figures— and their faces blown up and magnified on a giant screen above. Stone’s masterstroke is to suggest that the film element is part of a documentary being shot by one of the boys for a homework project. It leads to some savagely funny moments in an evening that is surprisingly strong on laughs given the magnitude of its tragedy. It makes the latter all the more devastating.
It has another effect too, because as Anna is increasingly pushed to the margins of her own story, losing not just a husband but also her career, her children and any future, her actions can be read as those of a woman desperately trying to rewrite the narrative which is being entirely shaped by men: Lucas and her former boss. She is effectively being locked out of her story as she once imagined it.
No wonder she is desperate. No wonder she is wild. Heebink makes Anna’s rage—a kind of madness—into the quiet all-consuming kind, which is all the more unpredictable and terrifying. She is both ferocious and desperately vulnerable. You sense she may terrify herself. So, she should. At the end the pristine white desert of the stage takes on a tinge of pink, like seeping blood whose stain will never be scrubbed away.
The last performance of Medea at the Barbican Centre is tomorrow, Sat 9 March. You can book tickets here.. If you use promo code '82179' at checkout then you can get 50% off £40 and £35 tickets. Only a few left so hurry!