Medea Electronica is a retelling of the ancient Greek tragedy, set against a background of 80s pop and politics. New company Pecho Mama (Mella Faye, Sam Cox and Alex Stanford) offers a heady mix of music and drama anchored around a compelling central performance by Faye as a woman who wreaks the most appalling revenge when her life starts to unravel around her.
Faye’s Medea starts out as an ordinary wife and mother, instantly recognisable from the playground gates or PTA meeting. She’s trying to make the best of her family being relocated from London for her husband Jason’s work, dealing with two young boys who are unhappy at the move, her own isolation in a town where she knows no one, and the sudden distant coolness of her husband, who is grieving for his recently deceased father. The production – using pre-recorded actors’ voices to play all of the parts but Medea – excels at setting this domestic scene, with Faye (who also wrote the script) beautifully capturing all the petty annoyances of parenthood, the small stresses of a marriage under strain.
But as it becomes clear that Jason’s ‘need for space’ is more serious – and that he himself is more devious – than she could have imagined, things quickly spiral. Medea finds herself losing control, and the stage is set for a terrible reckoning. Faye becomes increasingly unhinged – her songs veer between plaintive and furious, her body contorts in jerky movements, dancing like a marionette whose strings have become tangled. She is physically transformed, stripping off her respectable clothes to darker, more elemental attire, as she strides barefoot and bloodied across a stage covered in broken glass, her life shattering around her.
The piece is nicely ambiguous about the blame for this deterioration – sure, her husband (voiced by Toby Park) seems like a callous dick, but is he right in his assertion that she is an unfit mother, unsafe to be around her children – as, of course, she ultimately turns out to be? We only see Medea, but when her actions are interpreted through a different lens, it’s easy to see there could be another side. But it’s also impossible not to sympathise with her dilemma, while being grimly impressed by the cleverness of her scheme, in which she not only takes the lives of her children and her husband’s new lover, but neatly frames Jason for the crime.
Although we occasionally get to hear snippets of the news, reminding us the 80s was a time of political turmoil, the setting itself is underused, and seems little more than an excuse for the synth pop soundtrack. The decision to make Jason gay – his marriage a condition of inheriting from his homophobic father – makes the central plot feel anachronistic. It makes the betrayal more brutal, true – he sheds his wife for his male lover as soon as he is freed by his father’s death to do so – but also nullifies the threat. It’s hard to imagine any judge in the decade of AIDS-panic and Section 28 granting full custody of two male children to a gay father, no matter how unsuitable the mother, so what is she so afraid of? Without any real sense of what their marriage was – we only see their relationship in decline, and Jason seems so unlikeable you don’t feel he’s any great loss – it’s hard to be invested in its demise. And while the mix of music and drama generally works well, occasionally it jars, tipping the piece into melodrama.
But these quibbles aside, it’s a pleasingly compact and undeniably powerful production, anchored by Faye’s no-holds-barred, visceral performance, and marks out Pecho Mama as a company to watch.
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