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  • Writer's pictureBecky Wallis

Seal Boy (Riverside Studios) Review

Meg (Victoria Serra) is nine months pregnant, worrying about the future of her unborn child. She doesn’t know what to expect, she doesn’t know what this creature is going to be. She’s read all the parenting books, but doesn’t know what the reality of all of it is.

She gives birth to a seal, but doesn’t know what kind. Is it prey, like the Harp Seal, or is it predator, like the Leopard Seal? Is she the mother of a defenceless innocent, or the mother of a villain?

Walking a fine line between surrealist comedy and family Drama, Ken Weitzman’s one act piece ‘Seal Boy’ (directed by Sean Turner) is one mother’s exploration of having a child who sits outside of society’s norms, a child who nobody quite understands, with the fear of the unknown deeply embedded inside everything Meg (played here by Victoria Serra) does in her attempts to correctly raise her troubled child (played by Olivier Sublet).

At first, it takes a little while to establish where this play is going, and where exactly it is all happening. Meg’s husband, Darrin (Perry Moore) works for a company who sues unsuitable parents, those who children are disruptive in class or who accidentally send their child to school with spoilt milk, leading me at first to wonder if this play was set in a world where children had to be perfect and those parents who’s child weren’t perfect were punished. Meg’s parenting books come to life in the form of overall clad so called experts (played by the chorus; Noa Nikita Bleeker, Will Taylor and Sha Dessi)  each with very contradictory opinions of what makes a good parent. She’s presented with a stuffed toy seal and told it’s her child, could everything that occurred simply have been a figment of a worried expectant mother’s imagination?

But once the Seal Boy starts to grow and we see him interact with the world around him, the story becomes clearer, all without losing its darkly comedic surrealist touch. This is a child with special developmental needs, one who can only communicate in phrases he has heard others say, one who doesn’t fit the perfect movie image that society attempts to force onto him. Sublet dons a helmet like seal mask, creating the image of some strange almost monster like creature, illustrating how those with misunderstood conditions and/or needs can be painted as something to be feared. But Meg doesn’t fear him, she fears what the world could do to him or what he could do to others As her husband pushes to integrate the child with society in any way possibly, through schooling or sports, Meg does everything she can to protect him, fearing that she’s the only one who can.

It is Serra’s performance as the worried mother, laden with love, determination and the guilt that she is failing her son, that drives the narrative as she acts almost as the narrator of it. She is surrounded by characters who continue to offer her advice, various doctors who list seemingly never ending therapy options, parents of seemingly perfect children and lawyers who seem determined to prove her an unfit mother. With Moore’s Darrin being more a career driven member of society than a parent himself at times, the idea of everything involved in the raising of a child being the mother’s fault is heavily leaned upon throughout.

Sublet finds the balance between making the audience laugh at his character’s behaviour and making us empathise for him. Sometimes hyperactive, repeating phrases he has heard his mother say, phrases he’s heard the doctors and so called experts say with almost maniacal glee, to sometimes withdrawn, frightened and panicked as he so desperately tries to fit in somewhere and somehow. His relationship, although seemingly driven by a sexual kink, with Sophia Borkenhagen’s penguin girl, gives the audience a further window into the mind of the seal boy, into his understanding of the world around him and how he ultimately decides to handle it.

The multiple characters played by Bleeker, Taylor and Dessi continue to drive the dark surreal comedy home. Appearing through cupboards and doorways, there one minute gone the next; lawyers, robot like medical professionals and a cowboy hat wearing sports coach who both helps and hinder’s seal boy’s education through a belief that sports rules all. Representing, perhaps, the unceasing amount of advice, often unasked for, that is thrown at mothers as they try to raise their children in a way to see best fit, these character’s plague Meg and drive her deeper into the desire to protect her child no matter what he does.

Although dark, and at times strange, ultimately ‘Seal Boy’ is a deep dive exploration into the role of the mother in modern society, especially when faced with a troubled child. The desires to fit into the box created by a world that praises perfection, the clean, the perfect, hiding any faults, failures or dirt away from prying eyes, it’s all explored here in a very outside the box kind of way. Seal boy himself is the metaphor pushed to the extreme, a misunderstood monster who is only truly seen in his true form when people choose to look at him at a different way then society suggests, after all, not every child is suited for school, for the roles that the world thinks they should play. It’s not all perfect like that. And this piece illustrates that.


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