Review: Medea, Barbican

The incomparable Marieke Heebink astonishes in Simon Stone and ITA-ensemble’s production of Medea at the Barbican Theatre

“I remember us
That’s that I do now”

I first saw Simon Stone’s Medea in Amsterdam, in Dutch, without surtitles, and it was a revelatory experience which has lingered long in my memory as one of the best classical adaptations I’ve ever seen. So the chance to revisit it at the Barbican, once again anchored by the incomparable Marieke Heebink in Bob Cousins’ stunning design was unmissable.

And it did not disappoint in its ferocious retelling of Euripides’ classic, as Stone makes it feel urgent and chilling and all-too-appalling believable in its depiction of a woman pushed to the edge. Poleaxed by the revelation of her husband’s affair with his boss’s daughter, her extreme actions saw her committed to a psychiatric institution. A year later on her release, she craves a fresh start but finds the world has moved on without her.

Heebink is extraordinary. Her Anna is an accomplished doctor in her own right and appropriately for where society is today, finds that she has to do battle with mediocre masculinity, a blight that has taken its toll on her career as well as her sanity. Aus Greidanus Jr’s Lucas is no real villain, just a man who has taken taken taken what the patriarchy had to offer, little concerned with its impact on the woman he chose as his partner. 

The ensemble of Internationaal Theater Amsterdam (formerly Toneelgroep Amsterdam) comes up trumps all around though. Faas Jonkers and Poema Kitseroo as the gangly teenage kids are perfect as they’re caught in the headwinds, not quite old enough to get everything but nowhere near young enough to escape unscathed. The moment you realise their fates is simply extraordinary as it eloquently reminds us that they’re just kids godammit.

Stone employs live video with insightful skill. Cousins’ blinding white design remains a thing of chilling wonder once the penny drops towards the end. And a vein of dark humour makes this a far funnier world that you might expect, making its tragic end land all the harder in its unstinting intensity. A masterpiece.

Running time: 80 minutes (without interval)
Photo: Sanne Peper
Medea is booking at the Barbican until 9th March

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