Lucy Ayrton: The Splitting of the Mermaid

In this feminist retelling of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, the desire to be human is not borne out of desire to find a Prince, but a desire to experience motherhood. The underwater world is a matriarchal, all-female society in which eggs are laid in a communal spawning patch, which severs the bond between mother and child through the anonymity of the process. The decision of the protagonist, May, to become human, is a decision to lose her ‘right to be heard’, the severing of her tongue functioning as a bloody metaphor for what some women must give up for motherhood.

Ayrton’s unique approach to asking what it is to be a mother and what it is to be a woman, is as inventive as it is emotive.

This spoken world is the product of an incredible imagination. Lucy Ayrton creates vivid image after vivid image, from the mer-world hashed out of human relics to the gruesome process of May’s transformation. More impressive still is the way in which the storyteller weaves her beautiful tableaux into a compelling story. May’s desire to be a mother and to sacrifice everything for a child is so tenderly realised by Ayrton that the audience hangs onto every twist of her narrative, desperately desiring safety and success for the protagonist.

Whilst the story Ayrton tells is captivating and intelligent, it occasionally lacks in the telling. The performer, when presenting dialogue, will always move to the position of the character speaking, which feels rather divisive and unnecessary, and can disrupt the flow of the poetry. Furthermore, the poetry itself is not as strong as the narrative it is used to tell, and whilst Ayrton does employ some really stunning conceits, overall it feels as though more relish could be taken in her use of language.

Nevertheless, issues with the performance do not prevent this piece from being utterly heart-rending. Ayrton’s unique approach to asking what it is to be a mother and what it is to be a woman, is as inventive as it is emotive.

Reviews by Megan Dalton


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The Blurb

Is there anything you want so much you'd tear yourself apart? May longs for a baby, but mermaids don't have wombs. When she's offered that chance, in exchange for her voice, her body and her culture, should she take it? Updating The Little Mermaid to post-industrial Hull, PBH’s Free Fringe Spoken Word Newcomer winner Lucy Ayrton weaves a dark feminist fable with poetry, music and a little bit of magic. Direction and music by Superbard. ‘Brilliantly subversive’ (Scotsman). ‘Storytelling how it's meant to be’ **** (ThreeWeeks). ‘Fabulous... a must see’ ***** (

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