Black box theatre is often admirable in the sense that usually the performer can be seen more closely than they would be on the traditional platform of a stage. Their every movement can be seen, along with every facial expression they make, mistake or hesitation. It’s even more impressive when it’s a one-woman show in which the audience is taken through the fluctuating emotions of repressing horrible childhood memories, whilst trying, and failing, to mask them with the happier ones.
Jemima Foxtrot’s performance was phenomenal throughout. At first the premise of the production was hard to grasp. Characterising herself with the mentality of a young child almost, she embodied the personality and excitement of childhood innocence which comes with its naivety, and at first the fractured stories just seem like blurred memories. As the narrative develops, so does the emotional complexity of the character, and so does Foxtrot’s performance. Her excitement becomes manic in its attempt to hide her history, and her childlike movements become tragic. Yet, she still manages to achieve moments of comedy, even better, she doesn’t allow it to diminish the seriousness of the issue being brought to light.
It seems endless, the layers of meaning behind Foxtrot’s show, as you look back at what she’s been saying and the actions she’s been doing you come to understand what she is talking about, as well being able to appreciate the imagery evoked with her speech. The juxtaposition of the light-heartedness that comes with her performance, with the obvious psychologically damaging nature of her memories, makes the concealment of the past all the more poignant. The music only adds to this layering. Foxtrot has a good voice, and the reverberations of it throughout create the chaos inside her head and show how her character is trying to block out the past, but also how she ultimately confronts it and becomes a stronger person as a result. Here the music reflects that narrative, reflecting the shifts between despondent and optimistic, and the piece couldn’t have had the same emotional impact without it
Although consistently entertaining, the repeated stories and broken sub-plots did become slightly tedious. This was the point, it served to emphasise how the character relived her experiences over and over again as a form of repression, but also how they became broken as a result of distance and of the past experience she is trying to hide from herself. When they were revisited though it felt slightly dull for the audience, but the necessity of them was understood, especially the fragmented stories that were cut off frequently. Although it was frustrating for the audience, it could also be seen as ingenious in the way it places us in the position of the people trying to get her to confess and overcome this tragic experience. Although we want her to say it and confront it to overcome it, it is not always possible, just like it wouldn’t always be possible for a victim in real life. Somehow the whimsical and chaotic piece becomes a reflection of real life, and the audience becomes witness to that, and can also relate to it.
Incredible in the layers of meaning the show produces within the space of an hour, brilliantly written and performed, Jemima Foxtrot’s ‘Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea’ sails along wonderfully, and really must to be seen.
‘Above the Mealy-Mouthed Sea’ is on at 14.30, Sunday 14th January, at the Assembly Rooms Theatre.