Edinburgh Festival Spotlight: Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea

Edinburgh Festival Spotlight: Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea

To find out more about Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 and the spotlights, please see the introductory article.

Next up in our Spotlight feature is Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea, which plays Edinburgh Festival from 3 – 27 August 2017. I caught up with writers Jemima Foxtrot and Lucy Allan:

Describe your show in three words.

Poetry, singing and memory.

Is this your first Edinburgh Fringe performance experience?

In 2015, we (Unholy Mess) took our first poetry play Melody to the PBH Free Fringe. Melody was an exploration of how music can attach itself to people, places and memories, woven into a walk home from work. We were in a tiny room underneath a sports bar, and had to find a way to create a feeling of intimacy whilst football matches raged on upstairs. We ended up having a brilliant time and were delighted to receive a host of four star reviews from major publications, as well as a double page feature in The Scotsman. As audience members, we both love finding beautiful work in unexpected places, and we were so pleased to be a small part of that.

The year before, in 2014, director Lucy Allan took Unsung by Ayndrilla Singharay to C Venues, the first and only modern re-imagining of ‘Punishment’, a short story by Nobel Prize-winning Indian writer Rabindranath Tagore. Unsung relocates Tagore’s story from a patriarchal village in nineteenth century India to contemporary London and asks how far we have really come in the struggle for gender equality? 

Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea will be Unholy Mess’ first time at the main Fringe with a poetry play. After the success of Melody at the PBH Free Fringe, we are really excited about reaching a wider audience, and to be part of such a diverse and dynamic group of international artists. Thanks to Arts Council funding and support from Omnibus Theatre, we have upped the scale of our work this year, collaborating with Mayou Trikerioti, a leading designer, as well as with a choreographer and lighting designer to help us tell the story. We can’t wait to share our unique mix of theatre, performance poetry and live singing with a new audience at Underbelly.

Who else are you most looking forward to seeing while at the Fringe?

We’re really looking forward to a lot of the spoken word at the Fringe. Luke Wright (What I Learned From Jonny Bevan), Rob Auton (The Hair Showand John Osborne’s shows are always great. We are also looking forward to a lot of the theatre, in particular Meet Me at Dawn at the Traverse, Break Up (We Need to Talk) at Summerhall and the Paines Plough Roundabout programme looks really exciting, as always. The Fringe is so great for discovering new companies and artists you haven’t encountered before, so we will definitely be casting our net wide, as well as making sure we see as much as we can at Underbelly.

How do you feel to be performing at Underbelly Cowgate?

We are so excited to be performing at Underbelly. They have produced some really exciting work over the past few years and always have a really diverse programme. The venue we’re performing in, Big Belly, is particularly exciting for us. It’s a beautiful and really atmospheric space, and we couldn’t have asked for a better setting for our play.

Who or what are your inspirations?

We are committed to making work that is contemporary and we are motivated by finding new ways of exploring themes that we think are important. That is why our work is often interdisciplinary; fusing poetry with theatre and music with a dreamlike feel.

Lucy is inspired by the work of Katie Mitchell; she challenges received wisdom about what form theatre should take, and her politics feed powerfully into her productions in a way that is urgent, compelling and always thoughtful.

Jemima’s writing is influenced by Audre Lorde, Joanna Newsom and the intimate and confessional style of Amy Winehouse, who first got her interested in writing poetry and music.

What is your secret to surviving the intense, fast pace of the fringe?

To pace yourself! It’s really tempting to throw yourself into the excitement from day one, but in 2015 we tried to keep sensible working hours, and stayed really focused on making the show as good as possible, particularly in the first week. Once we felt happy with what we’d made, we could venture out to other shows (and beer gardens). Also it can really help to make connections with other artists and companies at the festival, to share the highs and lows of the fringe experience.

What are the future plans for your show?

After the Fringe, Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea will go on an Arts Council-funded national tour, which is also supported by Omnibus Theatre. We are building up dates at the moment and will post full details on our website. We are hoping that the Fringe will introduce our work to new venues and that we can expand our tour to lots more places.

What is the best production you have seen this year – can be any genre, style, in any theatre or performance space?

That’s impossible! The best thing director Lucy saw in 2016 was Ophelia’s Zimmer by Alice Birch and directed by Katie Mitchell at The Royal Court; it dealt with urgent politics in way that was restrained, quiet and detailed but shatteringly powerful. Lucy is currently on a research trip in Berlin, and recently saw Herbert Frisch’s Pfusch at the Volksbuehne. It was completely mad, totally riveting and had the most staggering design. It was really exciting to see theatre that is not limited by expectations around narrative or text.

Is there anything else you want to highlight about your show/ theatre company/ production?

As a company, we care very much about telling stories that are often overlooked or underrepresented in art. At the core of Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea is Jemima’s own deeply personal and urgent story of coming to terms with difficult childhood experience. We hope very much that the show will start conversations about things that are not often discussed from the survivor’s point of view. We also believe in taking creative risks in the telling of stories and are really excited to see how people will respond to our play because it is unlike a lot of other theatre, fusing multiple strands of narrative and using a loop station to explore memory and the unconscious to create a performance that is surreal, poetic, fragmentary and funny.


Writer: Jemima Foxtrot; Lucy Allan

Director: Lucy Allan

Producer: Unholy Mess

Design: Mayou Trikerioti; Barnaby Booth (lighting)

Cast: Jemima Foxtrot

Image courtesy of

Above the Mealy-mouthed Sea plays Underbelly Cowgate as part of Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 from 3 – 27 August 2017. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the website.