Creating accessible theatre is something that most performers support as a concept, but few put into practice. Zoo Co are a company who offer relaxed performances that are accessible to deaf people through BSL and subtitles, whilst devising work designed to be enjoyable for all. Their latest show sees three sirens (performed by Fleur Rooth, Rosalind Hoy, and Florence O’Mahony) wash up on the shores of modern Hastings, cursed with voices so beautiful they are fatal to any man who hears them.
The typical fish-out-water tropes are to be expected and we get them by the bucket-full. Rather cleverly, they meet Tobi (Jamal Ajala) who is deaf and protected from their deadly voices, who helps them integrate and offers to help them in their mission to destroy a book that is spreading lies about the story of the winged songstresses. With this odd heist story, it seems clear that Zoo Co came up with the idea of the Sirens first and worked the story around it. The stakes aren’t particularly high, and the story has so many subplots that the show becomes predominantly filler. A love story, a harassment story, a story about one of the sirens learning how to code, it is all too much.
As, sadly, is the show’s determination to address as many topics as possible; race, sexual orientation, harassment and abuse, etc. By trying to cover so much ground they don’t give enough time or attention to any of the topics. They also face a slight problem with tone. The colourful projections, the goofy plot, the big acting; it would not be unfair to assume that the style is aimed towards a younger audience. It is not, there are far too many adult themes, but it feels confused about who the audience is.
Describing the acting as “big” is not to say it is overacted, in fact there are some superb performances in this show. Rooth is endearingly shy, and O’Mahony stands out for her expressive movement and delivery. Ajala was at times wooden, though given his relatively small role in the performance it did not harm the show. Sirens is funny in places and clumsy in others, sadly the abrupt ending drags the whole performance down, and though it succeeds in being creatively inclusive, it fails to make an entertaining show in its own right.