Words: Hannah Nissen
‘Selkie’ is a contemporary reworking of a traditional Gaelic folk tale, originally based around romantic notions of the sea and its mythical inhabitants. Playwright Finn O’Branagain’s portrayal, (playing now at the Blue Room Theatre) explores a modern relationship plagued with the reminders of disparity and is a fitting analogy for the push pull nature of subsuming modern culture.
Ella Hetherington plays Rónnad, a helpless fish-out-of-water creature who is found washed up on the shore one night, covered in slime, searching for her lost seal skin, which shed to reveal the form of a beautiful women. But without her natural skin, she won't be able to return back home.
She is rescued by Sean (Paul Grabovac), a lonesome fisherman who takes her in and tries to heal her very evident wounds as she assimilates to the troubling world around her. The two impart a dual narration of both the event and those that follow. Yilin Kong and Kynan Hughes - whose interpretive movement embodies the core differences within the relationship - move throughout the space in a raw, intimate fashion.
Focusing on the Selkie’s very metaphorical inability to feel comfortable without her own skin- the play centralises on the delicate creatures beauty and fragility, suggesting a woman’s beauty can act almost as a skin itself, that must be shed before any deeper realisations can be drawn. But in terms of the themes advertised I believe there were some standout points to consider.
The decision to keep Grabovac’s character a complex, gentle, and likeable character added to the final impact. The fact that Selkie was pitched as a piece about love, cultural exploitation, and domestic oppression led me to believe angry stereotyping would ensue. Sean’s archetype of the “21st century man” who just wants someone to care for allowed a feminist revelry about beauty being held up and idolised in our society without actually needing a bad guy.
I also believe Sean’s character aids in the understanding of a man’s perception of beauty and how notions of manhood are enough to shadow the practicality of the relationship. Resonant to both men and women, and the pressures we mount on our instinctive stereotypes. It enforces the doomed nature of a relationship birthed from loneliness and curiosity, the wading tide of reality, washing back and forth, stepping away and revealing glistening moments of Michael Jackson tracks and Hitchhikers guide analogies, only to be washed over by the turbulent crash of reality.
The costume and set design by Cherrish Marrington was great. Specifically dancer Yilin Kong’s mad max looking leotard. The black stained gloves and 3D gills enveloping her tiny frame created such contrast between her and Hughes, allowing light and dark to interweave into a ceaselessly graceful struggle. Kong also gave a striking performance as we see her twitch and suffocate out of water, with Hetherington’s perfectly timed and piercing gasps.
With a pertinent set of a central circular dais in the room, embroidered with Gaelic patterns with chairs situated like that in a circus act. The space complimented director Joe Lui’s simplistic and organic lighting and sound design, with relaxing scapes of sandbanks broken up by the building crescendos of white noise.
Selkie explores a relationship with two unsatisfied creatures, searching for whatever it is they are missing in each other. It explores that comfort that numbs us and shields us from pushing ourselves, that stumps our passion, our fire.
Selkie runs until April 30 at The Blue Room Theatre, Northbridge. Tickets available here.