ED2014 Interviews ED2014 Spoken Word ED2014 Week2 Edition

Lucy Ayrton: Splitting mermaids at the Fringe

By | Published on Friday 15 August 2014

Lucy Ayrton

After winning much acclaim with her 2012 show ‘Lullabies To Make Your Children Cry’, Lucy Ayrton returns to the Fringe with a modern day reworking of ‘The Little Mermaid’ that explores issues around child bearing and reproduction. We caught up with Lucy to find out more about the new show, her Fringe experiences, and the spoken word scene.

CC: Tell us about the premise of ‘The Splitting Of The Mermaid’.
LA: “May the Mermaid wants a baby, but mermaids don’t have wombs. Should she sacrifice her voice, her body and her culture for a chance at a child of her own?” The piece updates the original ‘Little Mermaid’ myth to modern day Hull. I keep the darkness of the story but update some of the patriarchal assumptions.

CC: You tackle contemporary issues through your retelling of the Hans Christian Anderson fairy tale. Which issues are they?
LA: I’m aiming to explore issues around childbearing and reproductive choice. It seems that while we will talk openly about marriage and settling down with partners – “How did you know he was the one? How can you tell it’s the right time?” – we don’t have these kind of open conversations about the decision to have a baby. Instead we’re presented with two choices: being “really into her career” or “a mother and VERY HAPPY ABOUT IT”, never complaining or questioning. Childbearing is still not presented as a free choice, it’s shown as something that happens to you.

CC: Why build the show around ‘The Little Mermaid’?
LA: I’ve always been drawn to mermaids – they’re such a perfect metaphor for not fitting in. Caught between two worlds, not fully of either, but unable to leave the other behind. The idea of wanting to change your body is also something I can really relate to. And I’m really interested in the ways fairy tales evolve over time. Disney’s ‘Little Mermaid’ has an opposite ending, and therefore conclusion, to the original story. There is no “Happily Ever After” in the Hans Christian Andersen version. We think of this as making it less suitable for children, but what this story is doing is posing a question – “is it a good idea to give up your voice, change your body, and leave your culture behind, because you saw a hot boy on the beach?” I prefer the answer the original gives.

CC: It seems that the exploration of feminist issues across the Fringe’s programme – comedy, theatre and spoken word – has become a lot more common in last couple of years. Do you agree? Why do you think that is?
LA: I think it’s true that there has been an increase in feminist shows at the Fringe in the last few years, though I’m surprised that there aren’t more. There are still probably three productions of ‘Hamlet’ to each overtly feminist Fringe show. But the increase there has been is probably linked to a more general increase in feminist discussion in wider society, partly driven by grass roots projects like Laura Bates’ excellent Everyday Sexism, and also the success of people like Caitlin Moran. But I think there would be more feminist shows if the backlash to that trend wasn’t so strong. Not just the more obvious anti-feminist stuff on the internet, but day-to-day. Yesterday a woman told my producer that feminists were bad people, and he should set himself on fire. If that wasn’t the sort of response you get when flyering someone for a teatime storytelling show, there’d be much more discussion of politics of all types at the Fringe.

CC: You mentioned a wider increase in feminist discussion in recent years. Do you feel work like yours is part of a wider movement? And does that make you optimistic, despite that flood of misogyny and anti-feminism you still see online every day?
LA: I like to think so! And it does seem like feminism is becoming more mainstream again, after a real dip five years ago. The misogyny I see on social media makes me very sad though. I feel that today’s 18 year old women have more to face than I did ten years ago, and that’s not the way it should be. They should have it better than me. When I left home, my Mum didn’t tell me not to go out drinking late, she taught me how to stand up for myself instead. Now, we seem less okay with letting our young women be angry. We want them to shut up and take the blame.

CC: You’re listed in the ‘spoken word’ section of the Festival, though the show sounds a little theatrical. How would you describe the nature of the show?
LA: The show sits in a place between theatre, storytelling and poetry. It’s a one-woman show, so I play all the parts – two mermaid construction workers, a fisherman, a mechanic and a witch – and also narrate. It has the energy of a theatre show, but keeps the intimacy of spoken word.

CC: You had a very successful first stint at the Fringe in 2012 with ‘Lullabies To Make Your Children Cry’. What was that like for you?
LA: I had such a great time doing Lullabies. People were really warm and lovely about it, and the support I got from the PBH Free Fringe, especially the spoken word section and the other performers, was fantastic. I wasn’t expecting anyone to really review the show, or even turn up, so the reaction I got was amazing! The show went on to be turned into a pamphlet, published by Edinburgh press Stewed Rhubarb.

CC: Did you feel the pressure when creating a second show?
LA: Yes, I think I’ll feel it with every show! I was a lot more confident this time around though. For my first show, I was genuinely worried about just standing in front of an audience every day for an hour – what would I say? What if they hated it and left? How would I remember that much material? This time around, I was happy that I could “do a show”, so I spent less time worrying about that and more time tinkering with the story and adding physical and theatrical elements.

CC: For those who saw ‘Lullabies To Make Your Children Cry’, how does ‘The Splitting Of The Mermaid’ compare?
LA: The biggest difference is that while Lullabies was more of an illustrated lecture – a feminist history of fairytales interspersed with poems – ‘The Splitting Of The Mermaid’ is one narrative. I have more time to spend with the characters, so they’re real people, not just archetypes, and I can get much more into the emotions rather than just telling a tale and moving on. It’s a much deeper, richer show.

CC: The spoken word scene at the Fringe – poetry, storytelling and other variations on the theme – has really grown in recent years it seems. Would you agree? As a spoken word artist, is Edinburgh an important festival?
LA: Yes, I would definitely agree! There are so many incredible spoken word shows around this year, as there have been for the last few years. The range of spoken word at the Fringe is wide and diverse, and some of it is so high concept, ambitious and awesome – ‘Dead Poets Deathmatch’, ‘Can’t Care Won’t Care’, ‘Shame’ and ‘Stand By For Tape Back Up’ are great examples this year. It’s a really inspiring place to come and it makes you want to up your game! As a spoken word performer Edinburgh is also a great place to soak up ideas from other disciplines – stand-up, theatre, dance – and apply them to your work.

CC: What tips would you have for budding spoken word artists considering performing at the Fringe?
LA: Come up to the Fringe, right now, and see EVERYTHING you can. Especially the stuff you think sounds a bit weird, or not really your thing. Get a really broad view and see what works, especially in the context of the Fringe, and find out, most importantly, what you love. Talk to the performers and ask them how they did it. Start writing your show as soon as you get home. Go for the most conceptually and artistically ambitious idea you have – but preferably make it something you can do with no tech at all. Preview it again and again and again – do little scratch shows in your living room for your friends, or even just your cats. See what works on stage and obsessively tinker with the script until you’ve got something you’re really proud of. Don’t ever worry about not being good enough to perform – performing is how you get good enough.

‘Lucy Ayrton: The Splitting Of The Mermaid’ was performed at Underbelly Cowgate at Edinburgh Festival 2014.

LINKS: www.lucyayrton.co.uk