Thursday, February 1, 2018

Review: Medea Electronica at the Ovalhouse, 31st January 2018

Medea Electronica reviewed by David James
Rating: 5 Stars

Revenge is sweet. Revenge that involves a couple of dead kids and an incinerated lover? Maybe that's a touch on the savoury side. Pecho Mama's Medea Electronica retells Euripides 431BC tragedy Medea as a 1980s synthpop concert, making the wronged Medea (Mella Faye) as relatable, empathetic and as kind as possible and then seeing how far the audience is prepared to follow her down a disturbing, bloody path.

Euripides' play tells the story of a wife and mother who finds herself threatened when her husband Jason leaves her and her children for another woman. Medea's vengeance is brutal: she kills the other woman and then her own children, and scarpers to Athens. 

Pecho Mama shifts the story to the late 1980s, with Medea and her family moving away from London to follow her husband's career. In the wake of his Dad's death, her husband Jason suddenly cuts all contact and moves out without explanation. Struggling to understand why he's acting so callously, Medea tries to maintain normality for her confused children. But, as she realises the depth of her husband's cruelty, she bends and finally snaps.

When I first heard about Medea Electronica and its ambition of fusing Greek tragedy with 80s era synthpop, my reaction was more curiosity than outright enthusiasm. I've been to some seriously wanky concept gigs in my time, in which bands with limited theatrical ability disappear up their arses and produce something that's neither a good gig nor good theatre.

It quickly becomes apparent that Medea Electronica isn't going to be one of those shows. Pecho Mama (Mella Faye, Sam Cox and Alex Stanford) match their musical skills with restrained but enormously effective stagecraft that narrow and intensifies the focus on its lead. Every other character is represented by pre-recorded voices, which (no doubt due to intense rehearsal) is technically flawless.

Throughout the show, narrative seamlessly bleeds into song. These effectively communicate Medea's fractured mind: the textured vocals, moody synth lines and warped samples combining into muscular, moving soundscape. It also helps that these are just damn good songs: I felt a strong Brian Eno influence in Into the Ocean Parts I and II and glimpses of Portishead in Manta Ray, all of which pushes my musical buttons.

But all this would be for naught if it weren't for Mella Faye. It's been a while since I've seen a performer so emotionally and physically committed to her role. She's magnetic perceptibly 'acting' her way through the songs rather than merely singing them. Medea's journey from caring mother to child murderer is a tricky one to get right, yet Faye's gradual unravelling is horrifyingly plausible - her final transformation into fire-wreathed avatar of fury and righteous destruction sending shivers up my spine.

The show feels designed to push its audiences' buttons. It's impossible not to sympathise with Medea's plight and understand the roots of her rage. You see a woman being gaslit, manipulated, isolated and victimised: on paper practically a case study in misogyny. But just because someone is a victim doesn't mean they're not capable of terrible things, the show essentially asking us to sit as a jury and decide whether she's culpable for the atrocity she commits. These are questions that kept me awake last night and were on my mind while commuting to work: classic signs of a complex, memorable piece of theatre.

To put it simply, Medea Electronica is the kind of show I wish I saw more of. It's expertly crafted, performed to the highest standards, thematically fearless, smart as hell and cool as fuck. I can't recommend it enough.

Medea Electronica is at Ovalhouse until 10th February (tickets here). Then on tour (details here).

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