Medea Electronica – The Pleasance, London

Writer/Director: Pecho Mama

Reviewer: Gus Mitchell

Medea is around 2500 years old now. It has been told and retold many times. Pecho Mama, a new company who have made Medea Electronica their debut show, have chosen a route which nobody could accuse of being unoriginal. Combining a solo, monologue performance with gig theatre inspired by synth and 80s progressive rock, the show has some strong areas, especially on the musical side, but it is undercut by a nagging, building sense that the theatrical and poetic sides have been side-lined.

The set is for a gig: electronic drums and keyboard/programming, with a centre-microphone for Mella Faye, the central performer (as Medea) and singer. Speakers and equipment litter a set which, in its minimalism, is jarring at first but has effective titbits sprinkled – largely hung – around it. There is a simple string of fairy bulbs that prove very versatile and effective, as well as TVs and tape-recorders. A lot of it screams retro, and this is only natural, since Pecho Mama have set their retelling in the 80s.

This is the first point of disappointment for me. It seems that the 80s setting – foregrounded by everything from the old tech, to references to early computers and email to recordings of Maggie Thatcher herself – doesn’t have much reason to exist. Any re-setting that isn’t justified or doesn’t add a twist on the story always risks looking like a gimmick, and this increasingly seemed to me to be the case. Medea, Jason and their children are a London family recently moved to rural England. Medea is stuck at home with the children while Jason’s increasingly cruel distance from her and the children becomes more and more obvious, and the children struggle to fit into the small community. There were hints of the setting and time period adding interesting aspects to the story, but this never turned out to be the case. A drab 80s England predictably doesn’t do much to Medea except make it drab in reflection.

The music and musicianship should be applauded. Pecho Mama’s two-piece band are on point, and whether these genres float your boat or not, this is good, sometimes aggressive music well-performed. Faye’s voice is a powerful and affecting central anchor and adds a definite punch to the proceedings. The problem, however, is that the music achieves a grandeur and impressiveness which the theatrical parts of the proceedings cannot begin to match, and the spoken parts begin to look very plain in comparison. It is not just that the setting doesn’t sit right, but that Faye, as solo performer, makes short strides about the stage interacting with pre-recorded voices – Jason, children, and others. This not only feels like a cop-out – either be a stripped-down monologue complemented by music or don’t – but theatrically feels deeply unsatisfying, acting to empty space without the imagination to people it or leave it to the audience to do so. While Faye is an engaging and committed Medea, she cannot make this wrong-footed set-up work.

While Pecho Mama’s ambition and musicianship should be applauded, it feels that they have gone too far in one direction and failed to balance their musical prowess with enough theatrical imagination. Medea Electronica feels more like an early sketch for a possibly great Medea musical, if it got more courage and resources behind it.

Runs until 24 Feb 2019 | Image: Rosie Powell


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