Photos – Callum Sims
From the watery depths of the sea, a seal emerges, sheds its skin, and becomes a beautiful human woman. This woman takes up a life with a man who has found her on the beach; they fall in love and face struggles, but she has lost her seal skin and can’t return to her former life in the sea without it. Will she be able to overcome the loss of her identity and remain with the man? Will the man who loves her be able to keep her?
Playwright Finn O'Branagáin and director Joe Lui bring the myth of the Selkie to The Blue Room in a modern retelling with contemporary dancers, Yilin Kong and Kynan Hughes, and contemporary characters played by Ella Hetherington and Paul Grabovac. This formidable team of artists explore the ideas of love and possession, identity and dispossession, exoticism and conformity.
Hetherington plays Rónnad the Selkie, who we meet just after she has shed her seal skin (which is missing) and is in dialogue with Séan the Human who has brought her to his home to live. They discuss finding her missing skin and also creating a life together, going through the joys and struggles of coupling. Rónnad isn’t adjusting easily to the human world, and Séan begins to grow impatient with her odd behaviour and protestations.
While Grabovac and Hetherington exchange dialogue situated mainly on a central circular dais, Kong and Hughes play out a parallel relationship through movement and dance, in orbit around the dais. Their relationship isn’t an exact replica of Rónnad and Séan’s, but the two couples often mirror each other, creating a net of intersecting moments. Kong and Hughes seem to represent the anima and animus that drives the behaviour and emotion of Rónnad and Séan. They also embody the origin myth through their wordless interaction.
O'Branagáin’s adaptation strays from any romanticism that might be found in other works on the same myth, bringing it squarely into a postmodern, feminist context. Lui’s subtle direction allows O'Branagáin’s text and Laura Boynes’ choreography to come to the fore, and one of the unique draws of this production is its dual storytelling.
Also of particular importance in Selkie is the design partnering of set and costume designer Cherish Marrington with Joe Lui’s lighting and sound design. The two previously teamed up for Renegade’s Letters Home, and the same artistic sympatico is evidenced in both productions.
Marrington’s Selkie costume is not only visually striking, but it also does what good design should, which is to reveal another layer of the story. It illustrates the wild, untamed nature of the seal as well as the vulnerable nature of the human. The dais she’s designed and painstakingly built references the Gaelic origins of the story through the symbols on its surface, but also the lacquered furnishings found in Chinese furnishings. This may point to another pathway of interpretation for those who wish to let their minds explore.
In fact, this production leaves a lot of doors open for us to contemplate the many facets of the work and the Selkie myth. The power of a myth lies in is its pliability and its resonance with those parts of ourselves that seek to draw universal, cross-cultural, intertemporal connections. The team have already drawn several connections for us with Selkie, but they’ve also given us the invitation to draw many more for ourselves.
Renegade Productions presents
by Finn O’Branagáin
Directed by Joe Lui
Venue: The Blue Room Theatre | 53 James Street, Northbridge
Dates: 12 – 30 April 2016
Tickets: $18 – $28
Bookings: 9227 7005 | blueroom.org.au