Splitting the Mermaid. Lucy Ayrton’s funny and powerful drama at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival


I’VE seen Lucy Ayrton perform twice. I’m a fan. But with this show she had me laughing and then in tears, only able to mutter at her ‘great show’ before I ran out to wail.

I saw Splitting the Mermaid in preview in a (sorry) rather unprepossessing town hall in Oxford. There weren’t many of us in the audience, maybe fewer than twenty and at least one man was angry about the interruption to his urgent meeting with the cheap beer.

This was a mixed crowd in a venue which offered Ayrton no stage, little lighting and no set. Using only a laptop to control the music and maybe a torch for lights, you can’t say she didn’t challenge herself.

None of that mattered.

Almost as soon as she began speaking, I was drawn into her story, an update, or development of the traditional Little Mermaid fairy tale, in which May, Ayrton’s heroine, swaps the power of speech, for the chance to become a mother.

Ayrton hangs a series of wry and funny observations about gender relations on  the traditional story, as May moves from a bizarre and fascistic undersea world to a more recognisable, downatheel beach front in search of a baby she can bring up herself.

Perhaps it’s Ayrton’s confidence, or her experience and skill, but I was immersed in the narrative almost immediately as fully as if I’d dived into an ocean. It was lovely to be transported from the plain hall simply by the power of one woman speaking.

I’m not sure if I entirely agree with the suggestion I took from the show that being a mother, and, in fact, being a father, involves extreme sacrifice and nothing else, that only our progeny have a shot at redemption. I suppose it’s certainly a role which, done properly, asks parents to give without expectation of anything but the departure of their offspring. But I can still speak, unlike May, and I feel that what I have to say is richer for the experience.

It was great, though, a relief, even, to see having a child and the difficulties and joys that ensue, centre stage. In Splitting the Mermaid parenting takes its rightful place, with death and sex, as one of the determining experiences of being human and an unquestionably legitimate subject for poetry and literature.

If you’re lucky enough to be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, Splitting the Mermaid is a guaranteed great night out which will stay with you. Go! Take your friends. You won’t regret it.

Splitting the Mermaid is on at the Underbelly (Cowgate, Venue 61) August 2 – 12 and 14 – 24. Tickets

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