Film: BFI London Film Festival Guide


Review: Medea Electronica at the Pleasance

Euripides' tragic tale reinvented as gig theatre

Gig theatre is on the rise: the new wave of shows mixing live music and theatre offers a fresh new style of show for creators and audiences alike.

The mélange is proving popular, from Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour to the incredible success of SIX, now playing nine shows a week in its second run at Arts Theatre. And now new company Pecho Mama has exploded onto the scene with a genre-bending gig theatre début which brings Euripides’ Medea into the 1980s to a soundtrack of searing electronica.
We all know the story of Medea: scorned woman murders her children in revenge for her husband’s philandering. But never have you seen the story like this. Mella Faye, playing 'Dea', is the only actor on stage. Joining her to provide an electrifying and emotional soundtrack are Alex Stanford on keys and soundgarden and Sam Cox on the electric drums. The rest of the dialogue, however, the speech of Dea’s husband and sons, comes in the form of offstage recordings which Faye responds to with pinpoint accuracy. 
We are immediately planted in the 80s by Margaret Thatcher’s instantly recognisable tones on a television broadcast, before watching Dea’s life begin to unravel: what begins as marital tension after a bereavement and a move out of London ends as a vicious smear campaign and custody battle, with the voices of the other characters swirling around Faye as she sings evocative, desperate tones. As well as sound recordings, lighting is extremely well-deployed in creating different locales for Dea to move through, from watching the stars out the window to a the harsh unnaturalness of an office.
Pecho Mama Medea Electronica gig theatre play
Mella Faye as Dea © Katrina Quinn

The water metaphors so pervasive in Euripides’ play are here transmuted into Dea singing of the battle of keeping your head above water versus drowning. The body becomes a metaphor, too: as Dea slips off her shoes and tears off her floral housewife’s dress (leaving appropriately mermaid-like garb) and her body becomes more visible to us, she slips further away mentally. Faye shows impressive versatility in moving between devoted mother, woman trying to keep it together and the desperate, long-past-the-edge figure of the play’s ending. And while Faye’s acting lets us see Dea’s humanity even as she commits a monstrous act, the moral ambiguity of the character, the act and the situation is kept – we aren’t allowed to simply feel comfortably sorry for Dea or totally hate any other character.
Some of the twists to the story don’t quite work – Jason’s ability to convince a court to give him sole custody while living in a homosexual relationship in the 80s is unrealistic. The pacing drops slightly in the last third – where it should increase alongside Medea’s exponentially unravelling life and sanity. But this is a minor gripe when the content is so gripping and Faye’s performance so incredibly immediate.

Medea Electronica 19 - 22 February, Pleasance Theatre, Carpenters Mews, North Road, N7 9EF