I thought long and hard about including this as a blog. Partly because it's quite long (and what follows is only act 1, mind you); partly because it's a work in progress. A first draft in fact, bashed out very quickly and prompted by an interview I read in which Siobhan Redmond said she'd really like to play the role of a mermaid. I mulled for a while and what follows was the result. If the first act (of five) elicits any positive responses I'll publish the rest over the next few days which will give me a breather from churning out new perpetrations for you, my reader. So here is the first (and copyright) act of:
Everything that follows takes place on the most basic kind of desert island - a yellow sandy mound with a single palm tree, surrounded by limitless ocean.
Manuela is a mermaid in her late prime. Sam is a shipwrecked sailor in his thirties.
The play covers a period of fifty years, ending on the date the play is performed So if the performance is in 2016 Acts 1 and 2 will be set in 1966, Act 4 circa 1998 and Act 5 in the present day.
Act 1 The island at sunrise.
Act 2 The same, later that morning.
Act 3 The same, nine months later. Afternoon.
Act 4 The same, some years later. Evening.
Act 5 The same, many years later. Night.
(Manuel sings softly under her breath before reciting the Tennyson poem.)
Manuela: Weialala leia. Wallala leialala.
Who would be
A mermaid fair,
Combing her hair
Under the sea,
In a golden curl
With a comb of pearl,
On a throne?
(Becoming aware of theaudience, she addresses them directly.)
Don't whatever you do, do not call me Ishmael. My name is Manuela and I suppose you think you're seeing things. Hearing things. Let me assure you that this is not the case. I am a mermaid. A real one, if you please, and not some actress in an expensive rubber prosthetic. I am the thing itself. Herself, Mer. Maid. From the Old English mere for sea and maid for girl. Or young woman (pause). Did you like the poem by the way? Tennyson. Touch of class and there's plenty more of it later if you can stand it. Of course it's all about the young these days. (Pause) There was at one time the term merewif and that meant me, and the likes of me. A mermaid in her middle years, (hastily) in her prime. (Pause) In fact and come to think of it I prefer to self-identify as a Merrow. That's the Gaelic branch of the family - maighdean na tuinne or 'maid of the wave'. We are portrayed as gentle, affectionate modest and benevolent, Propaganda. We're also said to grant three wishes, which is - pardon me - total bollocks.. We're not magical. Apart from swimming, basking, combing our hair and luring sailors to their doom we do only one thing, and we do it very well. And I don't mean poetry. More of that later - after the watershed.
We are proud to be associated with disaster: floods and storms, inundations, shipwrecks, drowning, that sort of thing. The Wreck of the Deutschland? That was my Auntie Monica. Titanic? Hen party. You have to understand that an iceberg is like a stretch limo to us. Things got a bit out of hand. (Pause) We are also associated with seduction. Our enchanting voices summon vessels to their doom. Weialala leia. Wallala leialala?
Things are not what they were. As professional wreckers we kept afloat for centuries, but now what with satnav and hearing protection and all that the pickings are no longer rich and it's a toss up between tankers and dinghies. Too big to tackle solo or too bloody chewy. But the ships, big or small - they're basically collateral. It's the sailors we're after - the seamen. That's not a pun, by the way. It's the semen in the sailors we hanker for, seamen's semen. At least that's the way things used to be, before the sea went wrong, before all the industrial muck and oil and chemicals and plastic bags and what have you. Do not get me started on that. Also - before all the ships got great big throbbing bloody engines. You can't make yourselves heard above the racket. It was all very different in the days of sail. Now we're lucky to lure the odd solo yachtsman. Och we're not picky and can't afford to be. These are lean times for sirens, whichever way the wind blows. (Pause) The sea's in such a mess. I spend more time on land these days. By land I mean rocks, shoals, sandbars and lagoons of course, not land land. I bask. Which I'm good at. Bask lure, bask lure. Comb comb comb. I sometimes think - is there more to life than this? Of course there is - the other thing, the thing we do best of all, between the luring and the basking. You know what I mean. (Pause). Although things are beginning to change in that department, I fear. Now. My bits and bobs . . .
(She begins, humming, to arrange her things, like Winnie in Beckett's Happy Days. Shells, mostly, but also mirrors, sun cream, bits of ships chandlery, a flag, binoculars, lipstick, etc. She applies the latter, pillar-box red, during the following speech.)
My sisters are all long gone. There were thousands of them. Truth to tell we didn't get on and as you can see there's only room for one (gesture). Lonely? I should say, on balance, so. Apart from the odd school of dolphin I haven't had a natter with another living soul since - oooh. And what is it now? You don't say! Well. (Pause) It's odd that isn't it? "School"? You'd say shoal most of the time wouldn't you? "Shoal" for fish but "school" for the clever ones, the cetaceans. Like schedule, is it, or schedule? "Shooooallll". Don't go looking for a collective word for mermaids because there isn't one. We're not herd-minded, you see. Aquatic singletons, each with our needs, each with a rock we call home, each looking for love, or something like it. (Pause) Call us hybrid and you'd earn a proper slapping. Mummy was a Merrow, daddy a merman and their parents likewise and so on all the way back. We're not, in spite of what you might think the result of intercourse between men and fish. Or women, come to that. Not that this shuts down any options as far as I'm concerned. I'm fifty-fifty in all directions, and that suits me fine. (Pause) Fifty-something, if you insist. It's not a question of … what I mean is that we mermaids are - and it's not just us of course - we're not heterosexual or homosexual. Or bisexual. We're sexual. An unsympathetic marine biologist, which is to say any marine biologist, would say that we're not picky. But we do have our standards.
(She continues humming and combing her hair)
Note, will you, that there's never been a viable mythological being with the top half a fish and the lower bit all woman. That old gag would make no sense, no sense at all. Have you ever noticed, though, a certain type of human woman aims for that fish-look (pouts). What's going on there? Are they aiming to attract our own menfolk? Good luck with that, sister. (Pause) I'll get on to mermen later. Now about vanity. We're supposed to be vain - the mirror thing? The hair? The constant grooming? Let me let you into a wee trade secret (She removes and examines the wig, shaking it.) It's a wig see? And the thing's alive. (She carefully places the wig beside her on the rock) We do, it's true, like to make the most of what we've got, and boy do we ever moisturise. I've settled on this basic look and it's always worked for me. Tumbling blond locks, the scallops, the big tail full of erotic promise, the song. (Hesitates) Later. I don't do winsome. That cute Disney shite, with the eyelashes? That's not me at all. Mermaids are also, and you may not believe this but it happens to be true, mermaids have also been regarded throughout history as symbols of eloquence. There now! But don't all rush off confusing eloquence with loquacity! Loquacity is not a virtue, not by any means at all, not by a long chalk - a loquacious person being one who talks and talks and talks and talks and never really says anything.
An eloquent person being, on the other hand, one who (pause, searching for the right word), one who deploys words powerfully and persuasively, with rhetorical skill. One who lures through language, if you like.
Bit of lippy (She begins to apply bright red lipstick)
Now where were we? Minotaurs! There's a thing. There is a thing. Imagine! Manuela and a Minotaur sitting in a tree. K.i.s.s.i.n.g! Would that even work? A Minomaid? A Merrnotaur? I don't think so - all those special needs. Mneh. It would have to be a man, a human man. Or at a pinch a merman. A merman. (sings, Ethel merman style with big expansive gestures.) "You'll be swell! You'll be great! Gonna have the whole world on a plate! Startin' here! Startin' now! Honey ev-ery-thing's comin' up rose-s and da-ff-odils." (Pause) Big Broadway show tunes. That's the sort of thing to appeal to our male counterparts. (continues tune) Weialala leia Wallala leialala? (Scans horizon but sees nothing.) My siren call, that was. I have cousins who are members of the class Sirenia (quotes) - 'an order of fully aquatic, herbivorous mammals that inhabit rivers, estuaries, coastal marine waters, swamps, and marine wetlands. Sirenians, including manatees and the dugong, have major aquatic adaptations: arms used for steering, a paddle used for propulsion, hind limbs as two small bones floating deep in the muscle. They appear fat, but are fusiform, hydrodynamic, and highly muscular. '
Well that's hardly flattering is it? Well is it? I mean - 'highly muscular'? 'Fusiform'? 'Fat'? I suppose one has to make allowances and yes, candidly, I do have the makings of limbs in here somewhere, a wee wishbone if you like. We can't all have two of everything but nature favours symmetry. I've heard all the jokes. all the gags. "36-24-seven bob a pound." Ho ho ho. "Just my luck to be stuck with the half that nags'. Hee hee hee. 'Me mother-in-law is a lobster'. But there's a threat here, as well, wouldn't you say?. When your whole lower half is built for only one thing. Two things, but one thing really. (Pause) I am part ocean, all tidal, moved by the moon, warmed by the sun. I'm all estuary, delta, salt marsh and brackish creek; I'm rivers, lakes, pools and waterfalls. I'm all thirst, unquenchable.
(She stretches her arms and sings with sudden passion)
Weialala leia Wallala leialala. Weialala leia Wallala leialala.
Nothing doing. Finishing touches.
(She continues to apply lipstick.)
We are not, and let me spell this out to you all quite clearly, we are not freaks. Where I come from this is the norm so I'm not fishing for compliments when I say, when I assert, that we are not anomalies. We are not neither one thing nor the other. We are one thing and another. I'm not a fish with knockers and I'm not a woman with an ambitious codpiece. I am not twinned with myself, not conjoined, not double. I am not fake. And I am not here for your amusement. Au very much contraire.
I picture you sitting there with your knobbly knees and fat ankles and spindly legs with… with… with… toes. Now look at me. Look at my shapely sleekness, built for speed. Get a load of the tail ladies. Check out the fins, boys. You should see me wet, when I'm in water, in my element, perfectly adapted. The shimmer of my scales, the fine trail of bubbles - not what you think - the easy undulation of my well-toned bahookie. The coquettish shim shim shimmy. You would, wouldn't you? Well wouldn't you? Of course you would. In. Your. Dreams. This lady's not for filleting. (She regards her tail with evident satisfaction) And - here's something I always feel I have to say - don't imagine that this (gestures to tail) feels like getting both pegs stuck in one leg of your jeans. There is no sense of constriction, quite the opposite.
(Pause. She applies suncream to her arms.)
Don't want to burn.
You really should see me when I'm wet. The tail doesn't age, or it's the last thing to age. Upstairs is a different story of course and if you really want to know the truth I'm thinking - just thinking mind you - of getting a little work done. Oh nothing too obvious, just a wee nip here, tuck there. Why, you ask? You're not paying attention - what we do, what we're for, is to lure. And if you want to lure you need to have allure. "Allure". (Laughs) Och what am I like? If you're in the business of attraction you have to be attractive and in my world this boils down to the song - you know that by now - and the look. Hair, teeth, the implication of paps and this (wriggles tail seductively). It's all down to being mysterious and unfathomable and more than usually naked. How that works tells you a lot about men, and something about mermaids. Take the hair thing. The wig's not really me, if we're being perfectly honest, but it's a long-established look. It's my heritage. It's like from the hips down I'm all female but not all woman. Working up it's the opposite - all woman but not all female. (Taps head) It's what's in here that counts. No pubes to speak of, no hairy bits sticking out, nothing . . . ungainly. Streamlined. Seamless. Intelligent design? Better than that. Bored though. Nothing to do and noting to be done. Whatever next? (Long pause) I know - audience participation!
(The following can be improvised. Manuela directs different parts of the udience to make whooshing sea noises, seagull cries, thunderclaps and howling wind, until a noisy storm is created, helped by sound effects and lighting. At its height Sam, an exhausted and waterlogged mariner in his late twenties, barefoot and holding a deflated life jacket, enters stage left, unseen by Manuela. She turns, surprised.)
(Sam collapses on the sand. She hastily puts on her long blonde wig and checks herself in the mirror. Blackout.)
End of Act 1