Lucy Ayrton made her Fringe debut in 2012 when her first show, Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry, won her a Best Newcomer award at PBH's Free Fringe, along with a host of glowing reviews. Her new show, Lucy Ayrton: The Splitting of the Mermaid, tells the story of May, a mermaid so desperate to have a child that she is prepared to become human (losing her body, her voice, and her home) to do it. It's a retelling of The Little Mermaid updated to the present day and set in Hull. Grace Knight got in touch to talk feminism, fairy tales, and the female body.
I also wanted to work with a big contrast – to take a very concrete, real, non-whimsical place, and drop a big chunk of magic into it. I wanted to work with the Little Mermaid because it’s, again, a big part of my childhood – the Disney film came out when I was three. The idea of wanting to change your world and your body has always spoken to me.
The Little Mermaid and post-industrial Hull present quite a stark contrast. Why these two particularly?
“Partly, because I grew up in East Yorkshire – for me, Hull is where the sea is. I also wanted to work with a big contrast – to take a very concrete, real, non-whimsical place, and drop a big chunk of magic into it. I wanted to work with the Little Mermaid because it’s, again, a big part of my childhood – the Disney film came out when I was three. The idea of wanting to change your world and your body has always spoken to me.”
This show, and last year's show, “Lullabies to Make Your Children Cry”, both relate strongly to fairy tales. What is it about fairy tales that you find so exciting?
“They are such an old form, and such a female form. It was women who passed the first fairy tales and folk tales down, changing and adapting them over the generations. Because of this, I think fairy tales tell universal truths and examine the things we most need to understand.”
What is it about storytelling and performance poetry that particularly attracts you?
“I was a performer before I was a writer, so being on stage feels like a natural way of communicating. I like to get instant feedback from a story as well – I love that an audience can find you afterwards in a bar and start a conversation about what they’ve just heard. “
You've been a feminist since you were six, and this is clearly a very feminist show. Tell us about how feminism feeds into your work.
“I feel like the discourse around motherhood has this big part of the conversation missing. People talk about wanting a baby, or not wanting a baby, but we never seem to talk about how you’re meant to make up your mind. With marriage, we can freely ask each other how you knew it was the right time, how you knew “they were the one” – but conversations about whether or not you want children seem so intimate, only for close close friends and even then only after a bottle of wine.
“Reproductive choice is a huge part of feminism, and I’ve been involved in a lot of pro choice campaigning.I wanted to explore the other side of that – the choice to have, as well as not have, a child.”
“Agh, good question! In terms of performance, I hope I’ll have a new show in a year or two – perhaps with a bit more music, and maybe it’ll be a two-hander with my director and composer, George Lewkowicz. “I also have a very-nearly-finished novel, The Museum of Stolen Things, lurking on my hard drive. It’s a young adult novel about a world where we can climb into fairytales. It’s about the nature of good and evil – what it means to be bad. I feel like that’s a massive fairytale theme I haven’t addressed. Maybe then I can write about something else.”