30th January – 10 February
Created and performed by Pecho Mama: Mella Faye, Sam Cox and Alex Stanford
With Medea Electronica, Pecho Mama have found some kind of sorcery.
The piece, a retelling of the tragedy of Medea, is half play, half live concept album. The members of Pecho Mama persistently blur the line between these two halves. They place their synthesizer and electronic drum kit prominently on either side of the stage. Front and centre is a mic stand. The stage looks like it’s set up for a concert, rather than Greek tragedy. It’s about to host both.
As the piece begins, we come to understand how this is possible.
The play dances effortlessly between song and scene. One moment, Mella Faye’s Medea will be comforting her children, or speaking to their teacher, or confronting her traitorous husband. Then, instantly, seamlessly, her reaction to that scene is pulsing all around us. It’s broadcast through musicians Sam Cox and Alex Stanford’s instruments and Mella Faye’s own soulful voice. Through this back and forth Pecho Mama weave an unbroken thread of tension through the piece. This thread grows tighter and tighter until, of course, it snaps. To glorious and terrifying effect.
Mella Faye portrays Medea as a meek, ordinary woman, pushed to the extreme end of violence by circumstance. As an audience we view her transformation with a mixture of fear, awe, and pity. We are conflicted. It’s electrifying to see her claw back her power, but the lengths to which she goes are horrifying.
Propelling the piece forward is Pecho Mama’s evocative, exciting music. Cox and Stanford’s synths are constantly driving the piece forward. They are ever-present, accompanying moments of dialogue with atmospheric drones or sharp, percussive beats. They give the piece a persistent musicality and rhythm that keeps the story flowing forward at a breakneck pace. They make music that feels true to the story’s roots as an ancient verse play, and keeps the intensity building until its inevitable breaking point. It helps as well that they’re just fun to listen to, mixing elements of 80’s synth-electronic with prog-rock to form a suitably epic and energetic sound, cleverly composed and performed with panache.
What makes the piece so spellbinding as a whole, however, is how every element comes together to amplify the emotional intensity of the piece. Medea delivers all her lines into her microphone. This, counter-intuitively, makes the piece feel more intimate. Her voice comes from speakers all around the audience, making us feel like we’re experiencing the story from inside her mind. The only people on stage are Faye, Stanford and Cox, and of the three of them only Faye plays a character. The rest of the world flows around us, just out of view. Characters pass through the world invisibly, represented solely by their voices. It is testament to the skill of all of the actors involved, and sound designer Simon Booth, that I could not tell if these voices were pre-recorded or performed live off-stage. Every moment felt completely natural, despite the layers of technological artifice.
Seeing it feels like witnessing magic, as Pecho Mama seem to conjure a whole world out of thin air. This spellworking is facilitated by Jack Weir and Mella Faye’s excellent lighting design, which begins subtle and atmospheric but gradually becomes more striking and impressionistic as our heroine’s inhibitions are stripped away; and Marie Kirkby’s costuming, which highlights Medea’s transformation beautifully.
Through their combined efforts, Pecho Mama seem to summon the truth of the story, driven forward by their music and channelled through Mella Faye.
The effect is an exquisite piece of theatre, brilliantly executed and not quite like anything I’ve seen before.