Singapore Fringe Festival 2019
“A woman stands in front of a microphone. She can’t remember the punchline. Fusing poetry and song, award-winning UK theatre company Unholy Mess presents a funny, strange and poignant play about growing up and the legacy of abuse.”
Photo credits: Camilla Greenwell
The set comprises a tall backdrop of a large silhouette cut out face, a silver stage area with a pile of sand in the middle, and a microphone stand. Jemima Foxtrot arrives on the stage and speaks. She is slight, humble, but explodes in a performance that is remarkable.
Foxtrot is a performance poet, writer, musician and creator of this show, directed by Lucy Allan. In Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea, Foxtrot performs in a variety of styles including vocal sounds with looped pedals (that she deftly sets in front of the audience) to repeat and layer rhythms and melodies, spoken word, poetry, narration, dialogue, characterizations, zany physical acting, humour, drama, brief splashes of song – and a joke that almost never ends! Once or twice the sounds all build into a cacophony so its hard to understand the spoken words but it is moreover a metaphor of one’s mind when bad stuff happens and is relived. For this is a story about childhood and growing up, where there are fond and fun-filled memories as well as those that sear the soul.
Foxtrot is sincere and lively as she tells anecdotes, acts out brief conversations and tells the fish story – bit by bit – in between the other stories. It becomes a running joke, it’s also a device for some light relief as the undertow of her story ekes out. Her storytelling is fluid and changes speed as she excitedly hops and skips barefoot to a new part of the sand at the beginning of a new story such as “On a hot sticky day in July…” telling us about a family holiday at the beach or when she’s older, going to a pub.
In one scene she sits cross-legged at the front of the stage lit warm and tightly focused, enveloped like a hug. Here she is at her most child-like, retelling a mischievous moment when she and some friends were watching a film “a bit too old for them”.
Later, something happens and the mood changes, a plaintive song – then in a flash she does an eccentric movement sequence to her own upbeat vocal rhythms.
Foxtrot’s enthusiasm is infectious – she says she is “tight with excitement like an oyster” going on family outings, and the words emanate from within viscerally, rhythmically, emphatically clear, and well crafted with rich details. She is an expert storyteller with excellent timing, a compelling and striking presence and a touch of quirkiness, be bopping and bouncing through her experiences – and reaches a frazzled arc during the series of events.
The darkness of incidents as a ten and thirteen year old are dealt with in a sensitive avoidance, that is moving and empathetic. Rapid fire descriptions of people to bubbly vocal sounds follow, as it seems that life is good…or is it? Foxtrot melds music to everything even as pathos peeks through her words and feelings. Her graceful movements and full vocal sound come from her core – and she breaks her routine.
Exquisite lighting design by Barnaby Booth complements the performance with variations of warm, focused, and moody colourful light pin-pointed from above or below the often dark stage area.
Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea is a charming, beguiling, edgy, well crafted, and emotive solo show by performance poet Jemima Foxtrot. Highly recommended!