“Two principles of theatre are unity of time and unity of place,” states Wouter van Ransbeek, Creative Director of International Theatre Amsterdam (ITA). He is on a zoom call to Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy, Adelaide Festival’s co-Artistic Directors. “Today, we can only have unity of time.” Thanks to modern technology, a giant cinema screen, and translated subtitles, Her Majesty’s Theatre in Adelaide and Sir Robert Helpmann Theatre in Mount Gambier were fortunate to experience a once in a lifetime event. Live-streamed from a locked-down Amsterdam exclusively for the Adelaide Festival was ITA’s performance of Simon Stone’s Medea.
This contemporary reworking of Euripides classic Greek Tragedy interweaves the stories of Medea and Debora Green. Both are women scorned by their respective lovers. Both subsequently commit the tragedy of killing their children in the ultimate act of revenge.
Stone’s Medea is the story of Anna (Marieke Heebink), a Doctor working in the pharmaceutical industry with her husband Lucas (Aus Greidanus jr.). Together with their two children Edgar (Sonny van Utteren) and Gijs (Titus Theunissen), they lead a joyful existence. That is until Lucas begins an affair with Clara (Eva Heijnen). Clara is a much younger woman and the daughter of Anna and Lucas’ boss, Christopher (Bart Slegers). Anna, unable to deal with Lucas’ adultery, is committed to a mental institution after attempting to kill him. The play opens when she is released.
Scenographer Bob Cousins embraces minimalism to enhance the narrative. A stark white stage is adorned with nothing more than two wheelie chairs, a video camera, a laptop, and a quilt at any given time. Oh, and black ash. An D’Huys costuming is similarly minimalistic. All characters are dressed in the same outfit for the entire performance. This decluttered setting, juxtaposed with the complexity of the unfolding narrative, creates a symbiotic relationship that is compelling to observe.
Stone’s script unhurriedly reveals intimate and important narrative details and with subtlety. This fosters a palpable tension and captures Anna’s tragic arc exquisitely. His mise-en-scène visually complements Anna’s failing mental health. As the black ash begins its seemingly never-ending descent, it is both intriguing and harrowing. This juncture in the script is crucial as it is the beginning of the end. The deeper Anna sinks into despair, the further the ash spreads until, eventually, the entire floor is blackened by it.
Stone’s overall sensitivity with a difficult subject matter is to be commended. He respectfully tackles the death of five characters, including two children, without offensive imagery or language. Heebink’s portrayal of Anna is phenomenal. She brings the protagonist to life and captures all the nuances of a scorned woman. Of a woman who loves her children. Of a woman who is slowly spiralling into the darkness of mental illness.
Despite buffering issues and the occasional lag of the stream, Simon Stone’s Medea is nothing short of sublime. From the narrative to the ensemble cast, the performance is meticulously constructed. It captures the emotions, the tension, and the reality of a contemporary tragedy. Given the current world climate, the Adelaide Festival is fortunate to have included Medea in its 2021 program.
Adelaide Festival Review By Anita Kertes