Tackling the Mermaid’s tale

April 22, 2015 by

In a darkened auditorium, the audience listens to the sound of the sea.  Waves lap the shore as we are transported to an underwater world where mermaids swim and time does not exist. Writer and director Polly Teale has created an inspirational take on the Hans Christian Andersen fairy-tale.  Like all the best fairy tales, it has its dark side – but not quite what you would expect.  For this is an allegorical take on the original, and as such must be considered stand alone, despite adhering in some respects to the story we know.

Central to the story is the Little Mermaid, played by newcomer Sarah Twomey making her theatrical debut, who glimpses another world when she falls in love with a Prince (Finn Hanlon) who is a mortal – but in order to be with him she has to lose a vital part of herself.  Teale has transported the age-old tale of love and loss to a contemporary setting, full of touches which bring it up into a modern world – a world of marches and paparazzi, a world where class matters and social distinctions are rife.   A tall order indeed, and one which Teale has chosen to tackle head-on, weaving into it the heartbreak and uncertainty of growing up as a teenage girl, Blue (Natalie Gavin}, who is on stage throughout as the narrator.

This is a clever and innovative production, and one which owes much to a breath taking and magical set by Tom Piper, who was the designer for the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red at the Tower of London. Without Piper’s set, with its use of mirrors and reflective glass enabling two, and at times three, dimensional viewing, this production by Shared Experience in coproduction with Nottingham Playhouse would struggle to work.  As it is, Piper’s set enables a degree of credibility throughout, not least in the mermaids who, in constant motion, swim beneath the sea, aka a raised platform over part of the stage.  Liz Ranken’s choreography is inspired as white limbs flutter in constant and fluid motion.

Also worthy of mention is the music.  Composer and sound designer Jon Nicholls has created an atmospheric score which truly takes us into a world under the sea where the trappings of life on land do not exist, and the mermaids, innocent of the perils of the world above, sing their songs.  Local female singers provide an onstage chorus throughout.

Teale herself describes the play as having been written from a feminist perspective, dealing with such issues as the emphasis on appearance and looks from an early age. This can be seen in scenes that have connotations both with the Princess Diana tragedy and the treatment of leading female Royals today, as well as more serious feminist and worldwide issues.  However, it is the underwater scenes which are truly memorable, and which remain in the mind long after the performance has come to an end.

Runs until Saturday, April 25 at the Sherman, Cardiff, then continues touring.


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