I feel genuinely sick.
I can’t recall the last time I felt like this at a performance. However long its been its been far too long.
I went through so many emotions during Ann Liv Young (US) Mermaid Show it felt at times like a roller coaster. I giggled, I laughed, I was amazed, I was scared – oh sod it at one point I think I was genuinely petrified. I found myself torn between thinking the piece was searingly brilliant and artistically lazy. Whatever it was it was certainly powerful, beautiful, horrific and baffling.
The piece (in Colchester at least) broke down roughly into thirds. The first was a kind of homage to the beauty of a mermaid. She/it lies in state in her plastic bath attended to by her adoring acolytes. Text, song and the strange beauty of the image lures you into a false sense of security.
Then the mermaid breaks free of the plastic bath. At first desperate moving up the gears to angry and aggressive she tries to entice audience members to ‘come down with me’ – to sacrifice their lives for her (we’d previously witnessed the wake of ‘sailor 2’). Words cannot describe the physicality of a half woman half mermaid frantically trying to climb a seating rake whilst her acolytes shower her with water and perpetually film and photograph her. She tears into a raw fish, spitting and caressing in equal measure. Mist and a wall of noise match her anger step by step. So furious is her performance her quite extraordinary mermaid costume – a silver, slimey, shimmering fin – slips and she has to be man handled back into it.
Finally around a mountain of earth and half buried dollies (reminiscent of the Chapman Brothers) the mermaid and the acolytes tell the story of how she (or perhaps another girl) became a mermaid. It’s simple and strangely haunting. A complete contrast to what has gone before.
There is a curious epitaph – as the audience queue to have a Polaroid with the mermaid for the princely sum of £3. A reminder that the Mermaid Show owes an equal debt to freak shows and karaoke as it does to the concepts of live art.
This was one of THE great nights at Colchester Arts Centre and a reminder of just how important venues like this are.
And I still feel sick