Lucy Ayrton has a zeal for spoken word, and it really shows in her stage presence. Her little smiles to the audience at pauses in the story incite an excitement and enthusiasm in those watching her. Ayrton reflects this enthusiasm throughout her modern reworking of the story of the Little Mermaid.
Splitting the Mermaid takes a gritty approach to the fairytale: mermaid May yearns to bring up a child of her own, despite her people’s tradition of rearing children in schools. The interspersed sequences of action both underwater and on land form a great sense of how separated the spheres are, before they are forced together. Ayrton weaves her story cleverly, making sure the moments of relief are found with the boys on the surface, instead of forcing comedy into her troubled underwater world.
Ayrton’s little mermaid tale (fighting the urge to say “tail” instead) is vividly conjured up for the audience. The graphic depiction of the tail splitting in two is shudderingly descriptive, and lingers in the mind. May’s tongue is removed, with a brief nod to the animated film so many people are used to, but is so vicious the audience immediately forget about Ayrton’s Disney predecessors.
By presenting a new desire, May is a bold new character. I would have liked to have seen a little more exploration of Ayrton’s feminist take on the story, which I felt was more assumed rather than focused upon. There were also a few too many tame sequences, which unfortunately stop the audience from seeing the brutality of the piece fully. Likewise, Ayrton’s conclusion is fantastic, but all happens a little too quickly. The audience are left feeling rushed without the time to reflect, something which this piece would otherwise be able to capitalise on. The lilting metre and rhymes are great, and the story fascinating, but the pacing stands out as an unfortunate hindrance in making Splitting the Mermaid truly great.
Splitting the Mermaid is at Underbelly Cowgate as part of the Edinburgh Fringe.