Cornwall, the southwestern tip of England, is a land steeped in myth and legend. From the ancient tales of the powerful giants who shaped the land to the stories of powerful kings and brave warriors, the myths of Cornwall have captivated audiences for centuries. Marvellous Machine, a female-led theatre company, drew inspiration from stories about Cornish mermaids and unique local villages, added some family drama, a classic story about changing one’s life and a pinch of comedy – and turned it all into one captivating play.
The play’s title means a sea maiden or mermaid in Cornish – and sets the audience’s expectations in a very broad way. I was hoping for some mythical, magical elements, maybe even horror. Who knows, after all, it’s Cornwall we are talking about, so anything is possible.
The story follows the journey of Keren, an ambitious banker who is determined to make her mark in a male-dominated industry in Manchester. But as she’s pulled back to her roots and discovers the hidden coastal village of her ancestors, she finds herself drawn to the siren’s song and the powerful heritage of her people.
Alongside her grandmother Morwen, who is passing down her wisdom and knowledge, and her daughter Ellie, who is captivated by the mermaids, Keren embarks on a transformative journey of self-discovery and growth.
“Morveren” felt almost like 2 differently themed yet interconnected stories presented together. The first act presented a slow build-up towards more of a real-like folk story, and tons of hints about mermaids and strong females (the Ariel rag doll, carried around by Ellie), but left us with many questions to discuss over the interval. The second act brought a switch into a family drama and a classic theme that you would have seen in Hallmark movies: “a successful big city woman comes back to her village and falls in love with it, decides to switch her life and opens a local business”. The answers were served on a silver platter and the mystery… just disappeared.
Even despite the change of theme, “Morveren” served as an enthralling theatrical experience, and engaged me in multiple family-related tales. The show’s use of Cornish mythology was woven seamlessly into the story, providing a deeper understanding and appreciation of the culture and heritage of the region. I haven’t been to Cornwall myself, but the show made me browse Cornish Airbnbs on my way home and made me rethink my holiday plans – I was enchanted.
The Baron’s Court Theatre stage may be one of the smallest in the city, but the production team behind “Morveren” managed to turn the intimate basement space into a captivating and immersive experience through their use of light and set design. The light was particularly noteworthy, with the scenes by the seaside brought to life by a combination of bright, eye-catching radiance (which felt just like the blinding, sharp sun at the beach) and the soothing sound of crashing waves.
This contrast was also evident in the indoor scenes, where the lighting was dimmed to create a more intimate atmosphere and paired with background music of traditional Cornish female choir songs. The night scene, featuring a secret local ritual, was particularly striking, as the lighting shifted to a more dynamic and electric atmosphere, transforming the segment into a full-blown rave.
The 3 actresses cast in “Morveren” created a believable family relationship on stage, with a bumpy, but a warm connection between them. Each one brought a unique and captivating performance to the stage, bringing their characters to life powerfully and convincingly.
Aysha Niwaz portrays the youngest member of the family, Ellie. Some actors tend to give in to the annoying child idea and become an overwhelmingly loud and overly expressive idea of a child (you know what I mean). Luckily, this was not the case here. Ellie, with her high energy and curious questions, became the main comedic character in the show. I did, however, end up wondering how old Ellie really was. On one hand, she carried around her Little Mermaid doll. On the other, she’s left to swim freely in the sea, without the supervision of her family. And then, as a child, comes up with a business plan that could help to raise money for a special cause (a basic one, but still, it’s not an unrealistic idea, and it’s focused on making money rather than just simply “saving the world”). Altogether, the character was played well but written confusingly.
Morven, played by Alessandra Perotto, is the grandma we all always wanted to have – the one who lives in a town far away, hosts you during summer holidays and lets you do things your parents would never agree on. She portrayed that specific time in the life of a woman when, after a long life as the main emotional backbone of the community, that bone slowly starts to crack, sucking the energy and health out. Perotto beautifully showcased the journey of a strong, mature woman, and set the emotional tone for the second act. Her performance made the ending of the show even more touching.
Charlotte Blandford, who played the role of Keren, perfectly embodied the character’s journey of self-discovery and growth, capturing the audience’s attention from the first moment she stepped on stage. Her portrayal of the ambitious banker turned village leader was both powerful and nuanced, and her ability to convey the character’s internal struggles was a true pleasure to watch.
The show was quite long, with over 2 hours of material – but especially in the first act, I had a feeling like certain phone conversations could do with fewer words. In the second act, I would love to see a bit less of full closures – with complete endings to every single plot, we are left without any questions after the curtain call is done. This particular production had a lot of potential to become that show that you think about long after you have left the auditorium, and I feel like it lost it by saying a bit too much.
“Morveren” is a treat for anyone interested in Cornish culture and music. The story and the accompanying set of tracks by Becki Jayne Reed and the voices of London City Voices and Oxford Community Choir make for a feel-good evening in the company of exceptionally talented female artists.
Baron’s Court Theatre, London
Tuesday 17 – Saturday 28 January 2023
Charlotte Blandford – Keren
Aysha Niwaz – Ellie
Alessandra Perotto – Morwen
Writer: Kate Webster
Director: Lou Corben
Musical Director: Becki Reed