FringeReview UK 2018
PechoMama is a integrated music drama ensemble. Mella Faye as vocalist protagonist and scriptwriter centres this production, with Sam Cox on drums and Alex Stanford on keyboard and sound garden completing an on-stage trio. The music’s created by all three of them (we’re supplied with a striking CD of these songs too). Simon Booth’s sound design rounds out the high-impact sonics and Faye with Jack Weir use lighting to punctuate time and terrible conflagrations.
PechoMama crashes live music and theatre with the ferocity of controlled ritual, a version of what Greeks meant by theatre. Their first production Medea Electronica lives up to their founding name – translating as ‘little wild mothers’. Starting in Brighton venues The Ovalhouse hosts this tonally vast rescoring of the Euripides Medea of 431 BC.
Mella Faye as vocalist protagonist and scriptwriter centres this extraordinary production, with Sam Cox on drums and Alex Stanford on keyboard and sound garden completing an on-stage trio. The music’s created by all three of them (we’re supplied with a striking CD of these songs too). Simon Booth’s sound design rounds out the high-impact sonics and Faye with Jack Weir use lighting to punctuate time and terrible conflagrations.
Marie Kirky supplies a striking blue dress that loses its sleeves. There’s also shattering glass and bloodied hands. This production never loses its visceral smear and shudder.
It doesn’t flinch as the recent Almeida production did, from tackling the appalling act at its climax. In that 2015 adaptation Rachel Cusk as a mother herself felt that no woman could contemplate infanticide, that Euripides had he been a woman wouldn’t have. It’s an impossible ask.
Here Faye’s set her music theatre version in the 1980s with sound-overs and bites where Kinnock and Thatcher arc over the voice-overs of other protagonists – vocally only Faye gets to speak live and the synchronicity’s uncannily fine. On cue there’s Toby Park as the errant Jason East, Oliver Harrison from Faye’s old company Wildheart as Jason’s colleague Daniel Glauce, George Williams voicing solicitor Simon Williams, Emma Edward voicing head teacher Vanessa Cranston. Reece Pockney and Stanley Warbrick are sons Michael and Peter.
We know Jason’s grown distant and in the legend is casting off the sorceress Medea to marry a younger woman and keep the children too. Through a thrash of metalics we’re introduced primarily to Medea’s world: of children with unerringly thumb-nail-hitting questions, of a husband who won’t pick up, and when he does is abrupt, menacing, evasive. Of tortured inadequacies, of old wounds, ancient depressions unleashed. A supremely extroverted mode of intense inner turmoil this Medea is necessarily – deceptively – static.
Still the inexorable tread of the original haunts this rendering. Here music similarly rebirths as a central function of Greek tragedy, like the recent adaptation of Aeschylus’ Suppliants from the Edinburgh Traverse ending at the Young Vic. It’s what they themselves used to ritualize and punctuate the remorseless tragedies played out.
In a techno-rave style that’s what we have here, though percussion’s always played a part in imagined re-enactment of this genre. From the aulos double flute and percussion of Suppliants, to the full metal percussion in Car Orff’s 1968 Prometheus set in the original Greek, to Harrison Birtwistle’s using those same players in Suppliants for his 1986 The Mask of Orpheus and other short pieces like Tragoidia.
Here Faye’s explosive vocals hold sway over the percussive index of Cox, and Stanford with his chordal skimmings adding a gritty edge to the sonic envelope. Which also modulates to more straightforward lament when Faye riffs off grief, interpolating her occasional foray into straight acting and telling, somehow synching with the children or her husband’s work colleagues.
There are some twists but I’ll reveal only one. It’s not a woman Medea has to worry about. Quite how she deals with the fact that she discovers Jason filed for divorce three months back but never told her, and what she plans to do especially whilst Jason insinuates himself into the school and suggests Medea is an unfit mother… you can imagine something will explode.
In between powerful laments like ‘Into the Ocean’ where its two versions summarise a before and after with terrible reciprocity, we get grungy pieces like ‘Shame’ and ‘Carry On’, ‘Manta Ray’ and ‘Planting Seeds’. Each traces a terrible arc on the inevitable journey, or so Medea believes.
What Faye achieves convincingly is to both domesticate and centre Medea in the 1980s with a believable quotidian narrative, yet anchor her in the mythic, the explosively magical. Faye’s resorted to thriller plots, the kind of twists TV uses, but this is all the more effective since any hint of melodrama is offset by the shuddering agency of her singing and the work’s overall pulse.
Like the recent Suppliants, in a very different way, Medea Electronica asks just what we mean by Greek tragedy, what our conceptions of drama without music are, and why we need to reconnect to this finally cathartic ritual. For once it’s an epithet justified as you walk out ringing, bronzed with where you’ve been. An essential experience.