The performance is styled as if we are the last watchers after the apocalypse, the world is destroyed and we take what fateful entertainments we can. A travelling circus comes to town, the madam is the storyteller, and she is here to share the dark secrets of the mermaids. Not the saccharine mermaids of Disney, or the salty ones from pirate stories. These are the mermaids of bile and horror, the itch in the throat that is the precursor to a spell of foreboding and doom. Better out than in they say, and the warning here is to let it out lest it grow to be more than one can handle.
Anna Straker is a superb maker. The puppetry, the gorgeous scenes created out of timber and layered cloth and painted scrolls and cotton wool, the tiny lights embellishing puppets and displays. She is an experienced performer, but in this opening night edition the rhythm between the two performers is not yet quite established, the backing track volume sometimes insufficiently modulated, the interactions between the madam and her servant are laden with intent, but it is never quite established exactly what that intent is. I loved the graphically gratuitous poem of a script. The show has jam-packed a lot into its running time just short of an hour, and some parts did fly right over my head. There is enough dark gristle for my amusement, and plenty of exquisitely made art; my guest and I still find ourselves talking in circles digging for the wherefore and why.
Daniel Gough has some wonderful mannerisms and manages to insert some fabulously grotesque visuals into his performance of the assistant specter. Nonetheless, I want to know why their relationship is so convoluted; alas, the mystery will remain for evermore.
A spectacular soundtrack, which, if I am not very much mistaken, is a gothic orchestral cover of ‘Whatever Lola wants’. Anna Whittaker is the composer behind the soundtrack and it is exemplary, as I have come to expect from her work, which keeps popping up everywhere I look.
Five stars for the intricate set, full points for concept and delicious nasty poetical script. To me it felt a little rough but understandable for its premiere on opening night. I think it still needs some work to get it where it needs to be; that said, by the time this show hits its stride it will be the perfect piece to wander across at a festival, in a dark corner where you think there be rainbows and friendly creatures of the deep, but there are only ghouls and destruction and wanton betrayal, and slighted ladies who smell of seaweed and ageing fishes, who bide their time until they can wreak their delicious vengeance.
Nadia Jade saw Umami Mermaids at Theatre Republic on Thursday 19th September. It runs 19 – 22 September as part of Brisbane Festival.
Creator and Performer Anna Straker
Performer Daniel Gough
Director Elizabeth Millington
Costume Designer Caitlin Strongarm
Dramaturg Max Mellor
Sound Designer Anna Whitaker