Content Warning: Body Horror
Slippery and slimy, moist and matter-of-fact, My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse is a band’s debut gig that you’re bound to remember. Remembrance, bizarrely, is at the heart of a piece which you might expect to be characteristically present. Instead, Bradán have put together a mythologised spiritual awakening that subverts every expectation of the audience as they wander into what seems at first a pretty wholesome show about fish and the climate crisis. Crisis feeds into every part of the message underlying this show – as we recognise early on that each of the band members on stage is unhinged in their own special way, and in a crisis of their own.
We enter into what appears to be an extremely lively and bouncy Irish folk music gig – with guitar, hand drum and guitar blasting through the open doors of the Pit venue down beneath Waterloo station. The musical talent on display in this piece is just stunning throughout – with Elisabeth Flett’s character Sam the driving force behind the piece’s folk rock overtones and experimental soundscapes created by looping violin noise. It isn’t long before we’re introduced to the trio in greater detail – Fin and Fiona are in a long and happy relationship, with Sam the true third wheel throughout. This is their band’s first gig, we’re led to believe, and it isn’t long before the wheels come off the bus for our troubled threesome.
After recounting an Irish folk ballad, Fin descends into a passion-fuelled rant about the state of the environment, linking it back to the story he’s just told about an old hero who eats a salmon containing all the knowledge of the universe. While the show’s title might seem just like an enticing gimmick, we soon find out that it is not, and the show really is focused almost entirely on the overfishing, genetic mutilation and life cycles of salmon. With what is at first at saccharine sweet and seemingly naive approach to the climate crisis soon develops into something more deeply reflective, something encompassing myths about our past, how language affects the way we treat other life forms, and how it seems all but impossible to make ethical decisions in a world that’s on the edge of climate extinction.
The performances from the trio are magnificently formed to trick you into a false sense of security early on, before leading you down the garden path, through the rabbit hole and all the way back round again. Rory Gradon’s Fin is a deeply irritating character, unable to commit to his flipflopping lifestyle, and perfectly believable as a student activist gone rogue, needing the show to be all about showing off his commitment to the climate rebellion above anything else. Elinor Peregrin plays the perfect clueless girlfriend archetype, before growing into something far richer, someone who has to encounter the decline of the planet they live on first-hand. Elisabeth Flett’s almost nonverbal Sam sparks with sass and flits with flair, an absolute scene stealer whenever she’s dragged into Fin and Fiona’s latest argument.
Unfortunately, the strength of the plot takes a slight dip halfway through, as we are subjected to a drawn-out scene in which Fin and Fiona wander through big Tesco, paralysed by the fear of ethical consumption. There is a noticeable drop in the quality of storytelling here, which is narratively dull in comparison to the fluttered pacing and manic descent of the rest of the show. This section could do with some retooling to keep the audience on side with the messaging, as the nuance of the folk storytelling is lost amid a backdrop of spoonfeeding us the message.
Thankfully, the music is gorgeous – textured and textual – drawing underrepresented anti-colonial return-to-the-planet Irish mythology into the 21st century with ease and pace. Peregrin delivers a masterful vocal performance that enchants and entrances, while Flett’s stringwork ties the whole piece together drawing on a wide range of musical references. The fiddle pulls us through moments of euphoric joy, shuttered suspense and abject terror as the body horror sections emerge towards the end. That particular moment, in which without spoiling it too much there is some descaling both literal and metaphorical, is iconic. Rather than focus on special effects, the horror comes in the pure bastardisation of the instruments we’ve enjoyed being morphed into tools of carnivorous terror.
Foot-stomping, fear-raising and a bundle of climate fury-driven fun, this is how to deliver a message about the climate without almost dropping a beat.
Recommended Drink: My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse is a Jameson and Ginger Ale – rough, Irish, hazy and bubbly.
Performances of My Lover Was a Salmon in the Climate Apocalypse have now concluded at VAULT Festival. Keep up with the company on social media for future showings.