The Splitting of the Mermaid by Lucy Ayrton

-Reviewed by Andie Berryman


In a rash of pre-Edinburgh fringe shows I caught Lucy Ayrton’s The Splitting of the Mermaid at the Burton Taylor Studio in Oxford, which mercifully had air conditioning. The change of temperature also helped to acclimatise us to Ayrton’s magical world of the undersea kingdom of the Mermaids and erm, Hull.

I was interested to see how Ayrton’s story would develop because I’d seen a very early snippet of the story at a scratch night and never seen Lucy perform anything other than her slam material and had heard a great deal about her storytelling abilities.

The stage was devoid of props as Lucy delicately took possession of it helped by a soundscape. She was now May the mermaid swimming in the sea watching the families on the ‘Sepia beach’. The mermaid has a secret: she wants to have a baby, a bit difficult when you’re a fish. The magic of Ayrton’s performance is in the engaging way she draws us into the tale, through slight swirling movements which interact seamlessly with the soundscape.

As in most of Ayrton’s work there are strong feminist themes throughout the story, first wave traits such as striking out on one’s own and self-sacrifice, the witch character closely resembles the anti-suffragette propaganda. Second wave traits such as the reclaiming of the word cunt as not derogatory but magical, third wave traits such as the sisterhood being diverse and the smashing of the glass ceiling,… The story overall can be counted in feminist literature as a 4th wave, by which I mean all the previous waves coming together to make a sea of empowerment using all the knowledge of the waves and negotiating the currents.

As a mother myself, I was intrigued by the premise that the Mermaid had to have her tongue cut out before her wish for a womb was to be granted. Indeed nothing quite silences you like having a child, because, as Ayrton’s description of childbirth dictates ‘she felt like she was being split again’. You are split, you’ll never be that person again and a search for a new voice begins, in this story it is May’s child who gets the chance of finding her own voice.

I can wholeheartedly recommend going to see The Splitting of the Mermaid Ayrton’s story and performance is powerful, believable and invigorating.

Star rating 5/5

The Splitting of the Mermaid will be performed at the Underbelly, Cowgate, on July 31, August 1-12 and August 14-24 at 17.20. Book here.