Adelaide Festival 2021 Review: Medea

Medea has always been a source of fascination to me. I first read Euripides’ monstrous revenge text in high school, and remember having a heated debate with my teacher about whether Medea could be read according to feminist principles (I thought yes, she thought no). It always stuck in my mind after that. Maybe that, along with my lifelong love of fantasy lit, is why I ended up as a humanities academic, researching the intersections of feminism and monstrosity.  

The Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (ITA) has become a mainstay of the Adelaide Festival. In 2014, they toured with the epic Roman Tragedies to incredible acclaim, and similarly in 2018 their Kings of War was met with rave reviews. Written by Australian playwright and director, Simon Stone, in this production of Medea ITA modernise the centuries’ old play, weaving it into the real life story of Deborah Green, an American woman who killed her children in the 1990s. Stone has said about his imbrication of the ancient play and the modern news story that “[i]n everyday life you hear the echo of the ancient world. We have had the same conversations for thousands of years.”

I don’t really know how to articulate how spectacular this play was. It genuinely bowled me over. Marieke Heebink is astonishing as Anna (Stone’s updated Medea) (Heebink was awarded the Theo d’Or for her performance as Anna in 2015). The troubling feeling of both understanding Anna’s actions and sympathising with her situation is contrasted with her final, horrific actions in murdering her children. Unlike Euripides’ play, there is no deus ex machina here – both the characters and the audience must sit with the discomfort that this play elicits.

Having seen Kings of War in 2018, I knew how visceral and present ITA’s ensemble productions can feel, and wasn’t sure how that would translate to a livestream (the cast performed live in an empty theatre in Amsterdam, which is currently in lockdown due to the COVID-19 pandemic; this was livestreamed into the newly renovated Her Majesty’s Theatre). However, the visceral urgency of this production translated easily to the livestream. The quite stark, open space of the stage made the production almost dream like (or perhaps nightmarish is more apt), and the use of cameras throughout the play (the children are ‘filming a documentary’ about the family) blended into the live recording easily. 

While I do still wonder how affecting this play might’ve been if seen in the flesh, it is still something that will stay with me for a long time. And it is, in fact, exciting, to see how the theatrical community is transitioning in the wake of the pandemic. I will be thinking about Medea for a long time to come.

5 stars – Brydie Kosmina

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