Review by Harry Bower
I have been sat for at least ten minutes trying to work out how on earth I write this review. Sometimes you see a piece of theatre which takes you so frantically by surprise that as you sit in the auditorium, or cavern as the case may be at VAULT Festival this week, words fail you. My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse, for the rest of the review known as MLWASITCA to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome, is that show.
The latest offering from Bradán, a self-described eco theatre company which specialises in gig theatre, this show is brilliantly bonkers, outrageously outlandish and fantastically funny.
As the audience take their seats for the show, a three-piece Irish band are performing some background music on-stage, surrounded by an assortment of instruments. The lights go down and we are introduced to the band as a real-life group who are here to sing some climate-related tunes for us, innocently enough. Finn (Rory Gradon) and Fiona (Elinor Peregrin) are two of the three and are in a relationship. The threesome are completed by Sam (Elisabeth Flett) – and they all participate in the extraordinary music-making which happens throughout the piece. Each are exceptionally talented musicians in their own right and as we soon find out, pretty good actors too.
The opening song focuses on the Irish mythology figure, Fionn mac Cumhaill, whom is said to have eaten a legendary ‘Salmon of Knowledge’, which gave him all of the knowledge in the universe. Of course according to the myth this knowledge was used not to any positive impact but to kill people, something the musicians resent. This leads to a more broad conversation about salmon and in particular the plight of the salmon in the myth. And yes, you guessed it – Finn (the boyfriend) becomes slowly fixated by the salmon until he begins to convince himself that he may actually be a salmon after all.
If that sounds weird, or wacky, or a bit farfetched – then you’re on along the right sort of lines. Multiply it by about a hundred and you’ll be somewhere close. The genius of this show is not in how surreal it can be though, it’s about why it’s being so surreal, and what the point of the show actually is. “The world is f***ed”, announces Fiona when she is first on-stage. And she’s not wrong; the climate apocalypse really is upon us. The way in which the narrative educates is less about a huge existential crisis and the panic that should be motivating us all to do better, and more about framing those complex questions and challenges in the context of a very simple and easy to understand concept; the salmon on your plate.
The cast bound about the stage with seemingly bottomless energy, bringing the audience on a journey from the gig, to a salmon farm in Cork, and a Tesco shop, then back to the gig again. Inbetween each scene and sometimes as a core part of one, facts about salmon and the climate crisis are shouted into the ether, at times so dramatically that you forget the wacky chaos which has unfolded just seconds earlier.
The play remains fully meta as Finn continues his journey to realising his ancestors may have been fish, and that he himself must revert to type. The ending is quite something to behold and without ruining it for anyone reading, essentially Finn gets his way and there are some dramatic scenes which might give you nightmares.
I’m the first to admit that I have a particularly broad sense of humour. And I really, really like the wacky stuff. But even if you don’t, there is so much in MLWASITCA which will have you giggling. Who wouldn’t laugh at a fully grown man calling a shop-wrapped fillet of salmon ‘mummy’? The comic timing of the performers in this piece is everything. I simply must shout-out Elisabeth Flett playing Sam, who steals the show with her understated and often exacerbated reactions to the unexpected drama playing out in the middle of her performance.
Gradon and Peregrin share an understanding and a chemistry that comes with truly mastering the piece and instinctively knowing each other on a deep level. The direction is also pretty effective given the small stage and (presumably) limited time to rehearse in such a busy venue. The music and the talent of the musicians is worth the ticket price alone.
We all, in society, have a question to answer. Are we all just landlocked salmon in an estuary waiting to be picked off by fishermen? Or are we willing to stand up and take action against those causing the most damage, and change our destiny? That’s the ultimatum successfully posed by MLWASITCA. This is a show which should not need to exist. In my book, that gives it permission and creative licence to be as wacky and out there as it needs to be, to be accessible, appealing, and inspire change. It is less an illustration of a man deciding to become a fish, and more a palpable and actually sometimes verging on uncomfortable demonstration of climate anxiety.
There is an urgency to the writing and delivery which inspires panic in its audience, delivered via the medium of comedy to make it more palatable, but this makes it no less important. Oh, and by the way…it is FUN. With a capital F. Clapping your hands and singing along to ridiculous lyrics while a fiddle plays on a loop pedal and a woman descales her boyfriend (yes, really) could never be boring, right?
So that’s MLWASITCA. A play as mad as the notion that the human race would cause its own extinction. A mirror held up to society exposing its ridiculous choices, by creating something equally ridiculous for us to laugh at. A genuinely hilarious, laugh-out-loud hour of entertainment spoilt only by the crushing realisation that we’re all going to die unless we stop farming salmon. At least, that’s part of the message, anyway.
In all seriousness My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse is a triumph in storytelling delivered in a playful and bizarre way which will have its audience talking about it for days after they watch it. When it comes to climate awareness, that’s a tick. In terms of entertainment, it’s A*.
My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse runs at VAULT Festival until Sunday 05 March 2023. Find out more: https://vaultfestival.com/events/my-lover-was-a-salmon-in-the-climate-apocalypse/.
For future information about the show and where it may play next, visit https://twitter.com/BradanTheatre.