One hears English spoken on the streets of The Hague almost as much as one hears Dutch, and we are not talking about tourists. There are thousands of members of the diplomatic corps in the city, as well as even more students and for all of them English is the lingua franca. So, it is hardly surprising that there is an English language theatre thriving in the Dutch capital – namely STET. Without a permanent venue of its own, their eight or so annual productions are presented in a variety of locations. Their current production, and the first we have seen, is Another Medea which is performed at Zaal 3, a satellite studio space of Het Nationale Theater.
Euripides’ play is an ongoing project for STET. Another Medea is the second in an annual cycle of the piece, performed each November in a different version. Last year the play was presented in modern Greek using the original text. This year it is a one-man version by American playwright Aaron Mark.
Written in 431BC, Medea still has a lot to say and is the most performed of all the Greek tragedies with three major productions in the past four years in London alone. So, a hard act to follow or a play so good it would be hard to get wrong?
Originally the piece was performed by only two actors, one as Medea and the other, albeit with lots of hats, as everyone else so it is therefore not too much of an innovation to use only a single actor. Except, that in this one-man version the actor is a . . . well . . . a man and Medea, as we all know, was a woman. But essentially the story is one of passion, jealousy and revenge, a universal state of affairs, at least down our way, that can easily be transposed to any platform, including the New York gay milieu.
In this interpretation of Euripides’ play we meet struggling, and not very nice actor Marcus Sharp who is languishing in his prison cell, beautifully represented by a transparent plastic cube. He tells how, after failing to have any meaningful relationships, he meets wealthy English doctor Jason. Marcus moves into the doctor’s swanky downtown apartment and believes himself to be saved from his previous dissolute lifestyle. However, it comes at a price. He gives up his career, including turning down the plumb role of a male Medea, albeit in an out-of-town production. He rows with, and consequently loses his agent and abandons all his friends in the business. But he has the relationship he never thought he would have and if that is the price, so be it.
But things inevitably start to go wrong and to try and save the relationship Marcus fathers, as donor, a pair of twins with Jason’s sister. The doctor dotes on the children and Marcus is even more marginalised. Finally, Jason takes on a new lover and plans to return to England with the shiny new toy-boy, the kids and the sister in tow. Marcus loses it and the consequences are catastrophic. In case you are not familiar with the original story I won’t spoil it by telling what happens – but whatever it was, it is why Marcus is in prison.
Belgian director David Geysen’s sensitive and well-paced direction ensures we are drawn irrevocably into the story and always keen to know what happens next and consequently the ninety-plus minute monologue never flags. There are some echoes, early on, of The Silence of the Lambs, but maybe that was inevitable.
The narrative erupts into a multi-media frenzy as Marcus’s world falls apart and special mention must go to scenographer Vassilis Apostolatos for his simple but effective setting and to sound designer Carl Beukman whose work was always complementary and often integral to the production.
Aaron Mark’s text was clever, believable and an excellent adaptation/interpretation of the story and it worked brilliantly. There were no slack or slow moments and we were held in the spell throughout – no mean feat with only one actor and a minimalist set to convey it.
But the majority of the praise must go to Albert Pretorius who played Marcus – and all the other characters with only a garish wig and no hats to aid him. His performance was a measured, and ultimately chilling, tour de force. His depiction of Marcus, after the breakdown, describing his evil deeds into a microphone sitting at a table (in a courtroom?) was compelling and mesmerising. It was a performance, the memory of which will linger for some time.
If Another Medea was typical of the standard of STET productions then I shall look forward to seeing many more of them in the future. Highly recommended. Michael Hasted 18th November 2017