For their first production of the new academic year, Mermaids presented us with something a bit different from its usual fare. Tales of our World promised an evening of intimate performance storytelling, bringing together the voices of the past and present in monologues “encompassing the scope of human narratives.”
The production kept things very simple, with no set and using cushions and blankets for seating, as well as in-the-round staging. This brought an element of the telling-stories-round-the-campfire atmosphere they seemed to be aiming for, although it did leave the Barron feeling a little cavernous. While the simple staging effectively put all focus on the performances, the fairy lights featured in promotional pictures could perhaps also have been used to bring that cosiness to the performance space.
While there were no weak performances, there were a few standouts. Oli Savage opened and closed the evening with a well-crafted traditional fairytale with a simple but touching moral. His performance was energetic, engaging and charismatic, with his natural flair for presentation shining. Georgie Turner put in a fabulous comedic performance with a speech entitled “My First Kiss”, her character feeling immediately likeable and deeply relatable (at least for all of us who were awkward kids and teenage girls in the UK in the mid-noughties). Caelan Mitchell-Bennett’s “This Isn’t About You” was a memorable and deeply disturbing look at the mindset behind the casual far-right supporter, the “non-racist and sexist”s who will nevertheless staunchly defend their right to be racist and sexist. It was a distinct change in tone from most of the other pieces, but all the more impactful for this, and sadly reflective of the current state of “Our World”.
One pitfall of asking for selections of writing on such an open theme is that there is very little control over the tone of your submissions, and this showed in the lack of comedic speeches. While Turner and Krispy Patel both gave excellent comic performances, the rest of the pieces ranged from melancholy to incredibly dark and disturbing. While many of these pieces were effective in themselves, the lack of anything lighter in between to break up the far-right trolls, school shootings and suicide by hanging meant that these became exhausting and difficult to appreciate in their own right. The evening also failed to present a variety of time periods, which, judging from their promotion, the team seemed to be hoping for. Other than Savage’s “The Pageboy and the Amulet” every speech was decidedly modern in setting, which somewhat diminished the idea of storytelling being a form of communication passed through the ages.
Overall, Tales of our World was an excellent display of some of St Andrews’ less commonly seen writing and acting talent, and a refreshing new form of performance. A little more variety in tone and setting within the pieces would have kept the evening more engaging and surprising, and enhanced the atmosphere the team seemed to be striving for. However, some wonderful performances made this production well worth the watch, and I hope the team consider putting on something similar in future when they would hopefully receive a wider variety of submissions.