A woman in a swimming costume sits on a platform built within the sandy rocks on an island. A man in a red safety-guard beach top wheels around her on rollerblades. After a little bit of conversation, flirtation and seduction, she takes a bite out of his neck and eats him whole, down to the last bit of flesh on the bone leaving her face blood stained with drops of it trickling down her legs.
This sets the tone of the play; a tone which is abstract, tense, whilst all the while extremely whimsical. The woman (Rosa Robson) is a Siren, one from Greek mythology, who lures sailors in via her enchanting voices. The show is made up of this one scenario repeated five or six times, but changing the sailor and his circumstances in each scene (all played by Nicholas Masters).
The set is a standalone block in the middle of a bare stage: some swimming pool style steps leading up to a platform in the sandy rocks. A leftover pair of sunglasses; possibly just washed up from the sea, or more likely from a previous victim. Lighting changes dramatically with each kill, giving a tone of horror-parody. Robson talks to us directly; we are her audience of sailors. She sings beautiful showbiz jazz numbers and her voice is truly quite enchanting.
The play’s repetitive structure could become tedious, but manages to completely avoid this with Robson’s performance. Her energy is infectious and expels positivity and excitement. She’s consistently chirpy with a sort of casualness that keeps the dialogue natural and engaging, with an awkward humour which also makes us sympathise with her. She’s a lone Siren who just craves human interaction. Birds shit on her face. All she has to eat is raw fish which makes her sick. She knows nothing about the outside world.
There’s also an underpinning theme of violence against women in the play. One sailor quite aggressively touches her legs. Another grabs her breast. The sailors throw the women off the ships when the weather gets bad. The combination of Elms’ writing and so and sis performance means we see a completely alternative perspective on an essentially murderous creature. He doesn’t even need to make the sailors that nasty to achieve this; they are all quite friendly. I think it is the reversal of protagonist and antagonist which makes the writing so genius and the abstract mystery of the Siren which compels our attention.
A mix of abstract play and musical theatre, with music composed by Elms and Freddie Tapner, Siren is a total joy, with originality, absurdity and the fundamentals of human nature at the core of this masterful debut play.
Siren is playing at Pleasance Dom until August 27. For more information and tickets, go to https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/siren