Euripides’ Medea was first performed in Athens, in 431 BCE: it came last in competition. Within a year, it was one of the most-performed plays in Greece. Its intensity, its devastating relevance and its relentless climax have not lessened over time.
Simon Stone’s version is not a translation of Euripides, but rather a loose adaption (described as being ‘after Euripides’), drawing on other sources including the true case of a US doctor, Debora Green, who murdered two of her children in 1995. It is easily the best version of Medea to appear on the London stage in two decades.
This adaptation comes from the Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (English surtitles appear on a huge screen, which also projects some of the action), and it is funny, clever, harrowing in equal measure. Most modern productions of Euripides show Medea as mad by the end of the play: they assume a modern audience could not accept any other reading of a women who kills her own children.
This version, interestingly, begins with Anna (the characters are all renamed) being allowed out of the mental hospital where she has spent the past year. She has done something terrible to her husband, Lucas, who is having an affair with a much younger woman, Clara. Anna begins a devastating process of trying to win him back.
The set is a huge white box, around which Anna (a deservedly award-winning performance by Marieke Heebink) swaggers, in and out of control in turn. Like everything else about this adaptation, the changes made from the Euripidean model are thoughtful and perfectly-judged: this Medea isn’t mad because only a mad woman could kill children. She is mad because the life she has created with Lucas has exacerbated her frailties and demolished her strength. Their great fight in Euripides is partly about Medea’s superior cleverness. Here, she screams at Lucas for stealing her scientific research and passing it off as his own. ‘I’m sorry,’ he screams. ‘Have some fucking dignity,’ she replies.
The staging is brutal, leaving the performers nowhere to hide. They don’t need it: this flawless ensemble have created a raw masterpiece.