Fringe Theatre review: Siren, Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

A surreal siren in swimsuit and hat. Picture: Alex Brenner
A surreal siren in swimsuit and hat. Picture: Alex Brenner
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Siren | Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) | Star rating: ****

They seduce men, lure them to their death, and chew on their blood-soaked bones: Greek mythology’s literal man-eaters. In comedian David Elms’ deliciously sadistic debut (musical) play, the Siren stops singing and starts speaking – and what a voice she has. Cynical, scheming, witty and wonderful, and played by the mesmerising Rosa Robson, she’s everything a slew of dippy sailors, with their dumb quips and desperate eyes, wish they were – aimlessly swept around in the sea, before she bites off their heads.

In a brilliantly surreal piece of staging, all of these men are played by Nicolas Master on roller blades (wearing a red “Beach Rescue” T-shirt), at the mercy of the waves as they try to appeal to the effortlessly seductive Siren, sitting poised on a rock in a swimsuit and hat. “You’re crazy,” the men repeatedly tell her, their attempts to turn her into the cliché of a “kooky” female love interest undermined by the blood on her face.

It’s a play that delights in subverting such stereotypes. With the glee of a scheming psychopath, the Siren flits between parodying faux-femininity and undermining it with razor sharp one-liners and a murderous glint in her eye.

Women are unlucky at sea, the sailors claim – which isn’t exactly disproved here. The femme fatale is, after all, another well-known trope, even though she often gets to have more fun. It also seems you can’t have a play with this much sexual chemistry without it turning into love story.

The Siren eventually gives up her powers to be with a silly man whose sea shanties are far inferior to her amusing songs.

“You’re crazy,” she says, their roles satisfyingly reversed, but her snark and spirit gone: a familiar ending for a piece that felt like it was setting sail for a more interesting destination.

• Until 27 August. Today 5:40pm.