Adriana Llabrés, Edinburgh Fringe, Greenside @ Nicolson Square, In Pursuit of Andromeda by Jonathan Blakeley, Isles of Scilly, Jonathan Blakeley, Lisa Milinazzo, Selkie Myth, The Apex Theatre, The Sea, Theatre Review
I have reached that stage where I will need to take action to wean myself off the Fringe, else its immanent departure proves too dismal a comedown for me. I will need to watch some plays that are minor and rather plodding. “In Pursuit of Andromeda” at the Nicolson Square Greenside looks like it will help me with my tapering off. It appears to be a retelling of the Selkie myth, a love story that is more common at the Fringe than Romeo and Juliet, and that is always reliably dreary.
A fisherman – a very plain and gruff character – will fall in love with a lady from the sea. You will never be assured that this sea-lady does not smell of brine and that she is not clammy to the touch. Ultimately pitying the fisherman for his uncomfortable romance, you will proceed to follow a humdrum tragedy in which he tries to render her a landlubber by hiding her seal coat. She, of course, eventually returns to her natural element and her own kind.
Unfortunately, “In Pursuit of Andromeda” is much too sparky to supply the damp, dull tale that I am depending on. I will have to continue my search elsewhere. Jonathan Blakeley writes the play and he also stars as Edward, the fisherman. The story is based on the Isles of Scilly. The mermaid, Annwn (Adriana Llabrés), is identified in the title with the classical Andromeda, a mortal princess who was saved from being ravaged by a sea monster by Perseus; she is named after the Otherworld in Welsh mythology; whilst her story incorporates familiar motifs from the One Thousand and One Nights, including that of the unlucky fisherman who needs a magical intervention to help him net fish and that of the kingdom under the sea (both are contained within, for example “‘Abd Allah of the land and ‘Abd Allah of the sea”). I am not sure, however, that any of these international references (none of which are Cornish) really help us to read Annwn. She seems to be liberated from folklore or only formally connected at a few, unavoidable points.
Although this play is broad and ostensibly loose in its structure, everything is crafted lovingly and in amazing detail. There is dance, song, physical theatre, snatches of playful dialogue, and bleak melodrama, all like differently glittering fish that are sloshing together in the play’s net. Each of the omniperformances is electrifying. Edward gabbles at the mermaid, in a froth of raw, scrappy Cornish, stopping abruptly or petering out, and yet we learn to hear the music in this dialect and soon we are listening avidly for it. Annwn can be both fey and gaunt; you will be never relaxed with this startling creation and there are occasionally flickers in her performance when she appears to be modelled on the VCR ghost from the Japanese horror movie Ringu. There is nonetheless a tenderness to her character and some smart clowning as well. In one scene, Edward tries to propose to her, he hands over the engagement ring and, fascinated, she eats it. If nothing else, this play features the best marriage proposal in this year’s Fringe theatre.
The trouble is that we are overly prepared to give Annwn the benefit of the doubt. It is unclear whether she can actually be a lover – that she comes equipped with any normal sexual understanding – since her father, the king, reportedly created her and her sisters by laying eggs (i.e. like a seahorse). Her fondness for Edward cannot wholly negate the reality that she is a psychopath or at least ominously lacking in empathy. As it dives down into the depths of this horror, “In Pursuit of Andromeda” continues to maintain that it can salvage some dignified sentimentalism. A sharper ending could well disappoint us, or make the play feel smaller, but it would be more consistent with the thrust of its story.