A Great Fear of Shallow Living is a modern reimagining of the legends of selkies, mythical creatures who live as seals in the sea but can shed their skin on land to live in human form. We watch as Una, the daughter of a selkie who abandoned her family, distances herself from her mother. She continually rejects both the sea and her own skin, but her background keeps coming back to her, inescapably reconnecting her to what she is part of.
It is a story about what it means to be free, as a women and as people. In selkie folklore, female selkies have their skins taken and hidden from them by men, who they are then forced to marry. Brought into modern day, this premise is an interesting lens through which to explore how we label women as either free or trapped. Una’s mother, in keeping with the traditional myth, had her selkie skin hidden from her by her husband – Una’s father. So, while Una believes her freedom lies in her success as a working woman in London, her mother finds hers in her skin and in the sea. Their conflict is embodied in the two settings of the story; a quiet island vs. a crowded city.
There is live music throughout as enchanting vocals sound track the play. The folk music performed brings tradition to the play, adding to the feeling that we are being told ancient stories and secrets. The song is choral and mystical, giving the impression of an omnipresent, echoing sea. It is the perfect accompaniment to the narrative.
The two actors portray the difficult relationship between mother and daughter with convincing elegance and emotion. The movements on stage and the delivery of the words wonderfully capture the mysterious beauty of selkie myths, and the stormy dynamic between Una and her mother is captured with strength on stage. The representation of the selkie’s skin is done with subtle, clever costume. Long black coats become their form as seals, conjuring powerful images.
This is a modern day fairy tale which explores how the past can seep into the present, taking a mythical approach to exploring freedom and control.
A Great Fear of Shallow Living played at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.