Reviewed – 31st January 2018
“an outside eye could have helped transform this production into something truly extraordinary”
This retelling of the Medea story, set in the 1980s is a production by Pecho Mama , a company formed in 2016 with the aim of creating work that tramples the boundaries between music and live theatre. If that is taken as the goal of this production, then they have succeeded, however there are two fundamental flaws in the storytelling that cause the experience to be ultimately unconvincing.
According to the publicity, the story of Medea is played out “amid the brilliant chaos of a live gig.” Sam Cox and Alex Stanford, the two musicians onstage, are an integral part of the production, and the music and songs are convincingly 80s. I didn’t experience any wild chaos though. It’s more like an 80s electro-synth pop duo, with some rather good psychedelia as the story progresses. Both men are accomplished and experienced. The music was good, as was the soundscape, designed by Simon Booth.
Mella Faye and Jack Weir’s set and lighting design are excellent and evocative. The stage where the gig is taking place has some iconic 80s items suspended overhead, a tape recorder, a Fisher Price record player, a phone and a TV. There are lightbulbs dangling and an extraordinarily effective use of smoke and lighting at the climax of the show. Faye also wrote the script and plays Medea.
Medea is the only character we see. Other people are heard, not seen. This is an effective strategy, exposing Medea’s isolation, and Faye is utterly convincing as she communicates with the voices of her children and her loathsome husband. So what’s the problem with the show? Well, Faye’s Medea is a wonderfully loving mother, a woman isolated in a new home and abandoned by her husband, trying to keep everything going as she finds out what her husband Jason has been planning. We see her begin to fall apart as she discovers the extent of Jason’s betrayal. But I was not convinced. There is no way that Faye’s Medea would kill the two boys she loves so much. I just didn’t buy it. Her descent into calculating murderous fury was too controlled, her love for her sons too evident. The drama of the music and lighting at the end, and Faye’s driving performance of the final scene needed to be earned. They were not.
The second problem with the story is that Jason has left her for a gay man. He is going for sole custody of the children. Surely, in the atmosphere of the 1980s with the AIDS panic and associated societal difficulties faced by gay men, Medea would have nothing to fear from a custody battle, no matter how hard Jason tried to portray her as a depressive and a poor mother. Making Jason gay is an interesting idea, but one that was not fully thought through.
There is no director listed in the credits, and I wonder if that is part of the problem. It feels as though an outside eye could have helped transform this production into something truly extraordinary. So many of the elements of a really great show are present. It’s a pity it didn’t quite live up to expectations.
Reviewed by Katre
Ovalhouse until 10th February