Edinburgh Fringe 2014
Updating The Little Mermaid to Hull, Lucy Ayrton’s performance piece explores much more than waiting for your prince. Sisterhood, friendship, sex, desire – and a decent chip supper – all feature…
A feminist take on The Little Mermaid can flip between ‘that’s really clever’ and ‘that’s really obvious’. Thanks to Lucy Ayrton’s involving text (and her engaging delivery), this is much more of the former. Her performance piece is stuffed full of beautiful lyrical touches and clever word play, filled to overflowing with moments of quiet genius – there’s a very good line that equates the surface of the sea with a familiar feminist line that’s so – well, clever and so obvious – that you can imagine Ayrton punching the air with delight when she wrote it.
Ayrton’s mermaid May is a much more driven character than Andersen’s original. It’s an odd thing, but a lot of Andersen’s heroines, while being strong and wilful, are often easily battered around by forces they neither understand or can control. In The Splitting Of The Mermaid, May still is unable to quite control what happens to her, but she doesn’t allow events to stop her attaining her destiny. When she is robbed of her voice, she manages to ensure that people still listen to what she has to say, and has a right to be heard.
In updating the fairy tale, certain significant changes are made: May’s quest is still for a man, but her prince is not a prince, just a cheerful, sweet mechanic, and even he (initially, at least) is not the prize, but a means to an end. While we might react to Splitting Of The Mermaid as a feminist take on Andersen’s classic, Ayrton has as much to say about male friendship and loyalty without even drifting into caricature. Everything swirls together in a thrilling climax: when May’s waters break, the swell of the sea is ready to claim her back. Ayrton’s storytelling remains gentle, while managing to paint a scene in which the main characters are running out of time.
Actually, some more caricature might have been useful at times: some of the earlier characters seem slightly too similar too each other at the point when the audience are still acclimatising themselves to the piece, and Ayrton is too good a performer to allow herself to get away with the trick of switching between characters by shifting between her left and right profiles. A stronger hand in directing the physical differences between characters would achieve much.
The soundscapes and lighting design give much to this production, ensuring that we are – forgive me – part of her world, leaving the upland far behind for the full hour. Ayrton’s world-building is beautiful, and at the end, it seems a shame to have to come up for air.