The Verse’s Tamara Stidwell explores the theme behind the theatre show Medea Electronica, after a startling performance at The Old Market last Thursday.
“… nothing shall come between our love till the doom of death fold us round.” (Jason to Medea)
In Greek mythology, Medea represented the most frightening monster of all; a woman who was intelligent, devious and dangerous. Fast forward to this play by theatre company Pecho Mama, of a murdering mother set in the 1980’s, the myth has suddenly become very real, very scary and is nauseatingly disturbing.
Historically, the image of powerful women as femme fatales is entwined in almost every plot of sensational novel, Greek tragedy or biblical text. Medea, as a seductive and murderous sorceress can be likened to the 19th Century’s Lady Audley, a deceiving wife who attempts to off her husband, or the devilish Delilah of the Bible, who manipulates her lover Samson “from the womb to the day of his death”, forbidding him to drink booze or cut his hair, (only to chop it off and hand him in for revenge.)
Undeniably right from when Eve kissed the bad apple, most ancient texts featuring independent women instilled fear in men by insisting ‘control your wife or she will control you’. In the 19th Century this was the fundamental anxiety of the God-fearing bourgeoisie because oh, how the rising sprawl could be degraded by the class-cohesive fallen woman! When splashed over almost every pre-Raphaelite painting is that iconic delicious tangled mane of red hair announcing sexual deviance and that glint in the eye, every society that ever existed has been scared of the Medea’s. This icon of dangerous female seductiveness, from the dusty pages of the New Testament to the lusty girls clothes in New Look are merely transformations of an iconisation of a woman being ‘rebellious’ to a patriarchal system.
In this cataclysmic stage performance, combining electronic drums, key boards and synths, the howl of a woman who has lost her husband was not so much the lust of the rebel but the darting eyes, sweating limbs, and intense psychological breakdown. As her husband leaves her and then tries to take the kids, revealed in music-enhanced narrative, it depicts a woman who is hurting her children by loving them too much. The audience are made to feel uncomfortable when Medea, who begins in sophisticated dress, rips off the material, to reveal a woman who has lost everything. As the lights, smoke and music asphyxiate her frame, we see a ghost of who she was before; exhausted and scared, an eerie sense of vulnerability is cast.
Germaine Greer, in her book the Whole Woman, draws toward that dark place within, ‘the wicked womb’ and discusses how it mystifies and incenses even the most worldy of men today. From the Ancient Egyptians, who thought that the womb was where woman harboured animals, to the new-wave feminists of the 60’s who debated whether it has any importance at all, the term hysteria itself originates from the Greek word for uterus, and it is easy to theorise the Ancient Greek’s allusion to tragedy with Greer’s beliefs.
As actress Mella Faye sang spine-tingling songs of defeat and heart-break, Medea’s downward spiral is very clearly mapped out as a process of other’s mis-belief in her capacity to be a good mum. And as though driven by that place that bred them; she is depicted as hysterical in her erratic displays of over-compensating to prove her worth. Nonetheless, in the 1980s feminists began to reclaim ‘hysteria’, using it symbolically as a term to empower themselves. By cleverly casting Medea as warm at first, the audience is able to see her loyalty and love to her children, willing it her primordial instinct to do whatever she can to protect them.
In this adaption, you are lead to think, no of course she did not mean to trap her child in the car she was merely leaving him out there whilst she did her errands as a single mum. Yet a voice overhead says she uses her trapped child as a ransom to gain back her lover. That is precisely where it strikes gold, by echoing the paranoia of a mother who feels judged by society. Oppressed by her financial position she cannot break away and belittled by those in power around her she becomes self-critical. Medea’s situation is misconstrued by the mostly ‘male’ figures around her as she is deemed culpable and not capable. It is a vicious cycle, which eventually leaves her vicious.
So, women are to be beautiful and subservient, if they are powerful and independent are they are dangerous? In this it seems. Yet, it is an age-old debate, only more recently being debated. Medea Electronica, then, re-tells this Greek tragedy in a way which usurps a strong discourse, are we still fearing femininity? Or are we just scared of, well, the fact that someone can murder their kids? This exquisite theatrical performance culminates in an electronically attuned fiasco which twangs and pings at a terrifying demonstration of the gender struggles within the domestic and public sphere, the power of cultural myth and the metaphorical choke of male-domination.