Words by: Mandy Moe Pwint Tu
Selkie, produced by the Blue Room Theatre and Renegade Productions, is an honest-to-god representation of an old Irish legend. I say honest-to-god because even vague familiarity of the selkie tale may lead to expectations of a love story between a mythical creature and a mortal, a magical story with the possibility a happily ever after. But Finn O’Branagain’s Selkie fearlessly delves into the depths of this eerily tragic tale, where the line between monsters and men is finer than one would have imagined.
Directed by Joe Lui and written by Finn O’Branagain, Selkie follows the story of Ronnad the Selkie, played by the delightful Ella Hetherington. Ronnad finds herself stranded on land, having lost her sealskin. She is found by Sean, a mortal man, played by Paul Grabovac, who takes her under his wing. The play follows their story as they fall in love, and Ronnad tries to adjust to life on shore. But adjusting isn’t easy: she finds herself alienated by the rest of the people around her; she can’t swim as well as she used to; and she is stifled by her life with Sean. All Ronnad wants to do is to find her sealskin and go home.
Selkie is a love letter to feminism. It is a tale of a woman trapped in a toxic relationship, where love itself becomes a means of imprisonment. It is a very real portrayal of domestic oppression; of men stripping women of their identity, fearing that they will learn to be independent, because they are afraid of being left behind. As the show progresses, Sean’s behaviour towards Ronnad becomes more aggressive and abusive – going so far as to forbid her from visiting the beach because she always comes home sad. Ronnad expresses her desire to leave, consciously and subconsciously (I’ll get to this), but every time, Sean stands in her way.
The cast comprises of four performers and is choreographed by Laura Boynes: two actors (Hetherington and Grabovac) and two dancers, Yilin Kong and Kynan Hughes. The actors deliver dialogue; they set the scene, and serve primarily to move the plot forward. The dancers set the tone for the play; they are reflections of the two characters: they represent a subconscious that elevates the play to a much higher level of power and intensity. Kong portrays Ronnad’s wilder, truer selkie self; she is at once stronger and yet more vulnerable than Ronnad’s conscious self lets on; and Hughes depicts a darker side of Sean, more menacing and more devious than Sean himself believes he is. Together, the four of them are commanding and captivating in their performances.
The set, designed by Cherish Marrington, is as simple as it is magnificent, comprising of a round platform of what looked like Gaelic design. The audience is seated in a square along the walls; the platform and consequently the show itself, is the centerpiece, as well it should be. Strings of what I assume were either paper or plastic hung from the beams, giving the set an eerie, underwater cave feel. The lights would go out in transition from scene to scene, enveloping the whole space in darkness; blue and amber spotlights decided which character was in focus at different times throughout the play. The fact that the actors were able to move, and know exactly where they were going and where they were supposed to be when the lights came back on was admirable. If it had been me, I’d probably have tripped over something and ruined the entire performance.
From its mystical beginning, to its suspenseful build, and exalting climax, Selkie keeps you in awe of its storytelling. Joe Lui and Finn O’Branagain takes this typical fish-out-of-water story and turns it over its head. It becomes, instead, the journey of a woman seeking freedom and salvation; and in finding courage, finds the release she is looking for.
Selkie is running at the Blue Room Theatre until the 30th of April. Do yourself a favour and go see it.