Ovalhouse, London – until 10 February 2018
I hurt myself today; To see if I still feel; I focus on the pain; The only thing that’s real…
…And you could have it all; My empire of dirt; I will let you down; I will make you hurt
(‘Hurt’ – Nine Inch Nails/Johnny Cash)
As the original bête noire of Greek tragedies, Medea was the ultimate ‘bogeyman’ for children and straying husbands alike. Predating movies like Fatal Attraction by approximately 2,400 years, the legend of Medea showed how women (who had very few rights in ancient Greece) could wreak havoc in ‘a man’s world’ and commit arguably the greatest of crimes.
Bridging the gap between being a theatre company and a band, Pecho Mama has crafted a compelling, contemporary take on the Medea legend.
With Mella Faye on vocals, Sam Cox on percussion and Alex Stanford on keyboards, the band performs 80s/synth-based music to accompany the narrative. When they’re not performing the songs, Faye plays the eponymous wife and mother, reacting to dialogue that’s been pre-recorded by several actors.
While the music encapsulates the emotions after a given scene, the acting segments are invaluable to the cohesiveness of the narrative and emotionally engaging with the audience.
Medea’s husband here isn’t a former Argonaut, but a businessman whose father has just died. Wanting to support Jason, Medea initially doesn’t question his withdrawal from her and the family, and allows him space to ‘grieve’. However, his aloofness escalates, leading to him moving out and resisting any form of contact.
If the show had just shown a couple that had drifted apart, that would have been one thing, but that happens to thousands of other couples every day. However, the more that Medea tries to communicate and stay in contact for the sake of the children, the more Jason resists. She finds out that everything Jason has done is pre-meditated and filed for divorce several months before….
As if this doesn’t already add salt to the wound, Jason’s long-term plan involves systematically destroying her reputation behind her back – using her brief spell of postpartum depression to accuse her of being an unfit mother. Not only does Jason infers this to the school to gain leverage, he cites it as one of the reasons for the divorce and for having sole custody of the children. Make no mistake. Jason here is a bastard and his lack of empathy know no limits. If we, the audience are absolutely fuming, what would a woman like Medea be feeling?
What with the show being set in the ’80s, one could argue that the finer details in the plot are influenced by Fay Weldon’s 1983 novel The Life and Loves of a She-Devil. However, even without this insight, watching Medea Electronica isn’t something one can intellectualise in the moment. It’s a visceral experience that reminds 21st century audiences that for all of their ‘sophistication’, we are creatures of emotion, capable of the most monstrous acts. As with any production of Medea, it isn’t the ‘destination’, but the ‘journey’ that matters. While Medea’s ultimate actions can’t be ‘condoned’, the audience understands their source completely, what with Jason inflicting the psychlogical ‘death of a thousand cuts’.
In legend, Hera, the wife of Zeus was merciless in her wrath when she found about her husband’s infidelities. Only there was no ‘come back’ for her, because of her status and her authority hadn’t been undermined. Pecho Mama’s Medea is all the more dangerous, because Jason took everything from her: her home, her standing in society, her children. Beware the person who has nothing to lose.