24 November 2014
Song of Semmersuaq is adapted from an Inuit mythical tale. Written and performed by Sophie Partridge, it is the story of a 7ft tall chief’s daughter from a tribe who live in a world of snow. - Cate Jacobs reviewed a performance at the Unity Theatre, Liverpool on 21st November
On her 16th birthday Semmersuaq is required to participate in a ritual to choose a husband from within the tribe. She must choose a man who can reach her height and kiss her. If the husband is unable to satisfy her, he will be castrated!
Not surprisingly none of the eligible men of the tribe want to be chosen and are relieved, if suspicious, when a short, physically weak stranger, Karlmauor, comes to woo and claim her….
The piece, performed with puppets, explores universal themes of love, identity, gender, sexuality, difference and disability. As we take our seats a rhythmic shamanic drum beats and the shadows of the puppets linger in the semi dark of the stage set. There is a vaguely disquieting sense that the puppets are watching us, the audience, waiting for us to settle before they begin.
As the house lights dim, and the stage spots come up, Sophie Partridge, gathers us in to her story with a lyrical opening that chimes in the poetic tradition of all storytellers, she doesn’t say ‘once upon a time’ because of course Inuit folktales are set in an indefinite place of ‘back then’ and that is where she beckons us to join her, in an atmospheric set of puppets and a banner-like backdrop, coloured in earthy solarised hues, textures and images which she highlights, with torchlight, during the course of the story.
The puppet of Semmersauq is attached to, and towers over, Sophie’s wheelchair, but her skills as a puppeteer are such that as soon as Semmersauq comes into action, Sophie the storyteller fades away; and when storyteller and puppet are both present there is an organic connection and flow between the two, that beckons you deeper into the story experience. In short, it is enchanting and quickly transports you to a childlike place of awe and wonder.
The metaphors used in Semmersuaq are familiar in many fairytale traditions – for the first half of the story she is referred to as ‘she-daughter’. When her name is revealed it marks a powerful change in the tale and the character of Semmersuaq, where she rises to her full height, into the being of her womanhood and feels fear for the first time.
When asked about the spiritual beliefs of the Inuit, shaman Aua said: “We don’t believe. We fear.” So there is enormous significance in Semmersuaq coming of age, feeling fear and recognising her difference all in the same breath-taking moment that she is beguiled and won over by flute playing, Karlmaour.
All good fairytales end with ‘they all lived happily ever after’…. and this one too; Semmersauq, with Karlmauor riding on her shoulder, walk off in a gentle drift of paper snow... and equally the audience is left with a subtle drift of messages/ challenges about difference, diversity and love, that settle on us, and walk with us, out into the world and into our dreamtime…