Rachael Stirling will play the title role of Medea in Mike Bartlett’s new version of the Greek mythology, which tells the story of a woman who avenges her husband’s betrayal after he leaves her for a younger model.

Stirling’s character, Medea, is left by her husband Jason and her future seems futile without him. 

Alone in her marital home, Medea cannot work, cannot sleep and increasingly cannot cope.

While her son plays, she plots vengeance against her husband.

Stirling says: “Medea is already seen as an outsider in this community and the fact that she’s clever, that she’s an intelligent woman further sets her apart from her neighbours.

“Men hate clever women; it goes against all the rules. At the same time, she can be very witty and this has helped her form some friendships. There’s always the sense, however, that you’d prefer to see Medea being entertaining on stage rather than sitting next to you in the auditorium.”

Bartlett’s contemporary version explores the private fury bubbling under public behaviour and how in today’s world a mother, fuelled by anger at her husband’s infidelity, might be driven to commit the worst possible crime.

But it is important to remember, says Stirling, that Medea can be good company.

She says: “She’ll make you laugh with her irreverence and she’ll speak her mind, whatever the situation. There isn’t an ounce of self-pity in her and there’s even something joyful in the agony of what she has to endure.

“In a way, she’s quite naive about people and about her marriage. Medea’s attitude to Jason is quite clear. He made a promise to her and then he broke it. Medea doesn’t believe in this modern-day relaxation in standards of behaviour.”

Stirling is keeping shtum about how she is preparing to chart all the various aspects of Medea and, while she is full of the fierce concentration which this role demands, she is not looking for any special sympathy.

She says: “I always hate it when I hear actors talking about the process of what they do so I’ll keep my thoughts to myself, and I’m not complaining about the strain of playing Medea. It’s not as if we’re saving lives.”

Medea; Richmond Theatre; November 20 to 24; £10to £25; call 0844 8717651 or visit atgtickets.com/richmond.