Here we are at the Edinburgh Fringe and the first show the Devil and I went to see was a preview of Lucy Ayrton’s The Splitting of the Mermaid.
TIM : This was a performance so much my cup of tea that it could have been served in a mug with my name on it. Ayrton updates Andersen’s The Little Mermaid to industrial Hull and takes us from a startlingly totalitarian undersea world to a mechanic’s shop by the promenade. The central character is May, a mermaid longing to bear and raise her own child. She sells her voice to a Sea Witch in exchange for her chance at happiness. But (just like the original) there are prices, conditions and looming tragedy.
Ayrton’s background is as a performance poet and the ease and confidence with which she works her wordplay is amazing. Her rhymes are fresh and vital. As someone approaching this from a performance storyteller’s perspective, I was deeply impressed by her craft. I was also delighted by her staging: simple tricks of light to denote being above or below water or the rising of the sun, and the constant bubbling, musical soundtrack from Superbard.
THE DEVIL: Her Sea Witch had a lurid purple spotlight to denote her undersea hovel. Why don’t I have a special effect in our show?
TIM: Because you are literally a talking snake. You don’t need a special effect.
THE DEVIL: And because you’re cheap.
TIM: Was that your favourite moment, the scene where May makes a deal with the Sea Witch?
THE DEVIL: Hmm. I really liked the bit where they went to Whitby for fish and chips. It felt so laughably mortal. But now I’m hungry. Can we get on with it?
TIM: Of course. There were a few moments where Ayrton’s staging was off, characters switching from right to left as they spoke to one another, but as this was her first preview show in the venue I suspect she’ll have that nailed by the main run. The narrative was gorgeous, and while this is going to be rightly hailed as a feminist piece I was particularly moved by Ayrton’s gentle take on masculine sexuality, devotion and friendship.
THE DEVIL: Actually, I’ve changed my mind about my favourite bit. Andersen’s original has a horrible piece of tagged-on moralising at the end where the Little Mermaid can regain her shape if she does good deeds for 300 years. Or some such vomit-inducing twaddle. My favourite bit was that Lucy got rid of that entirely and left us with some far more artistically credible mer-human drama.
TIM: Good point! Overall, I’d say if spoken word narrative is remotely your thing then this is one to catch at the Fringe in 2014.
Tim Ralphs is a storyteller and his show of urban devilry Rebranding Beelzebub is on every night from 2 August 2014 to 24 August 2014 at 9:50pm in The Banshee Labyrinth. A PBH free fringe performance – you only have to pay what you think the Devil is due.