Medea Electronica at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: visceral, spine-tingling synthesiser freakout
I will admit ignorance: I had no idea what the plot of Euripides’ Medea was before watching Medea Electronica. Pecho Mama’s visceral, spine-tinglingly horrible synthesiser freakout was, then, one hell of a baptism.
Set in the uncertain Thatcherite 80’s at the dawn of the technological revolution, Medea Electronica is pitch-black gig theatre for a fearless audience who don’t mind taking a leap into the abyss. Sporting a 50’s-esque, wifey dress, Mella Faye wanders onto the stage. She’s backed by Sam Cox on an electronic drum set and Alex Stanford on synthesiser – both wearing very 80’s white blazers, like something out of Mann’s Miami Vice.
Faye, in the titular role, is the only speaking (or singing) presence in the piece – other dialogue is provided by audio recordings which are integrated beautifully in surround sound with the live action. When the play begins, her husband’s father has just died and he’s behaving stranger than usual. Medea has to comfort him and his passive aggression, all whilst dealing with their two young children and organising the household.
Before long, said husband isn’t answering calls – and when he does, he’s vague and evasive. The children are getting worried and need constant assurances that their father is ok/will indeed come back home eventually. He’s beginning to level accusations of insanity and unfitness against Medea, and is demanding custody of the children – the emotional stress makes her appear like a crazy woman to all around her; they don’t know the full story. He’s moved in with another man, and it appears as though he was never attracted to Madea in the first place as he’s gay – he just used her as a means to an end.
Before long, lots of glass is smashed (alarmingly, all over the stage on which Faye staggers barefoot), that dress has been ripped to shreds, and lipstick has gotten everywhere. The stage is set for an operatic fever-dream of sickening, spectacular, beautiful revenge that practically threatens to burn the theatre to the ground it’s so volcanic.
In a world where LGBT perspectives are beginning to be adopted into the mainstream, and where we’re questioning the gender-norms/stereotypes that have informed society for centuries, this Medea feels completely relevant to the modern age. She’s pushed to the edge by the toxic, bullish masculine behaviour of a husband who’s decided to leave her because he’s finally able to reveal his gay identity to the world. Admittedly, in a real-world context, the mother almost always gets to keep the kids – that would be doubly, nay, triply so in the 1980’s – but the dynamics of gaslighting and emotional abuse ensure a constant level of thematic relevance.
Throughout, Cox and Stanford blast progressive, 80’s tinged synthy electronica through powerful speakers directly into our faces, as Faye makes maximum use of a distortion pedal to roar ecstatic, echoing, inhuman melodies into dead space that soon bursts with sonic energy. A mammoth subwoofer centred on the stage sends raw, powerful vibration soaring through the very foundations of the space. It’s an intoxicating analogue cocktail of Pink Floyd’s Syd Barratt and Trent Reznor with a hefty dash of Tangerine Dream thrown in for good measure.
This is complemented by a cosmic, stunning lighting design by Faye, Jack Weir and Simon Booth that situates the piece half-way between the 1980’s and the distant future. Racks of bulbs flicker in the background whilst, with a click, the whole stage can be engulfed in blackness by blinding white stage lights that transform the swirling energies of the piece in a second. Most spectacularly, a fan at the back of the room is used to diffract the light from a powerful orange bulb – frequencies and patterns oscillating with its speed.
By it’s stunning – and I mean stunning – viciously cathartic finale, as smoke and strobing, pulsating orange light engulf the audience and layered synths vibrate through our skulls, Medea Electronica has reached an electric fever pitch of unrivaled intensity on the Fringe. It’s a relevant, universal story of absolute loss and all-encompassing destruction; it’ll eat you whole and spit you out, reborn, onto familiar streets which suddenly seem extra-terrestrial.