OFS reviewer and volunteer usher Lucy saw In The Weeds, June 2022.

Seen at the Old Fire Station on 8th June 2022, In The Weeds tells the chilling story of a Japanese scientist who travels to a Scottish island in search of the unknown. Here he meets Coblaith, a local woman with kelp in her hair, who he believes may have the answers.

Written by Joseph Wilde and directed by Rebecca Atkinson-Lord, An Tobar and Mull Theatre’s production is in turns poetic and coarse; mystical and mundane. Weaving the natural and supernatural, it examines the fine line which sits between them.

Kazumi is a scientist with a tragic backstory, a fear of water and a paradoxical fascination with it (or what is in it) as well. Spurred on by constraints and stories, he is desperate to find what he wants and is unbearably drawn to Cob, her local knowledge and the mystery that surrounds her. She agrees to show him the places that he seeks, but at a cost (or sacrifice). The play thrives on ambiguity. Who, or what, is Coblaith? Why does everyone hate her? Are we looking at a culture clash, or something more? What is anyone’s true intention? And who are the real monsters?

The set is atmospheric. A pool of water is surrounded by eerie green and blue lights. Kazumi stalks the banks, while Coblaith slinks in the water. Scene changes are swift, reflected by slips and crashes in the register of the two characters. Lyrical tales are smashed against local dialects and broken, Japanese-speaking English. This is at times humorous, but more often hair-raising. Cultures clash, collide and collude. Stories are a key theme – Japanese and Scottish folklore are both represented and examined. It becomes apparent that while there are differences in delivery, there is often a similarity in concept.

What are the purposes of stories? Kazumi sees creatures as of yet undiscovered, but Cob points to an older history, from long ago when humans were a part of the land and had not yet claimed it for themselves. When they were natural beings, who knew their place. Cob maintains that stories existed as warnings etched out back in a more innocent era when humans hadn’t enslaved everything yet and there were places which equaled danger, where they were not wanted and there were creatures that would devour them.

In part, In The Weeds is a ‘selkie story’. It references seals that take off their skins and become alluring women. There are two sides to these tales: those of the selkies, and those of the men. Blokes would inevitably entrap their selkie of choice, chaining her skin up somewhere she wouldn’t find it easily. And she would dwindle, fade and metaphorically die until the day would come that she would grab her skin, fling it on, and go back home to the water. The man would be left devastated and utterly bereft at the selkie’s escape. But for her, the true tragedy was her capture.

In The Weeds explores man’s desire to know, own and control. It asks who the real monsters are while unearthing the richness and depth of stories. This gothic thriller is jam-packed, carnal, and full of long tendrils that enchant and entangle.